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Does Size Matter…For Longevity?

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It has been observed in nature that larger-bodied animals tend to live much longer lives than smaller ones (Hutchings, 2021). Compare the maximal lifespan of a Greenland whale (over 200 years) to that of the house mouse (four years) and you will see what I am getting at. However, nature isn’t without its exceptions and lifespan varies among animal classes and kingdoms. Reptiles do, for example, tend to live longer than similar sized mammals (de Magalhães, 2023; Shilovsky et al., 2022). This may be partially due to them having a slower metabolic rate. A slower metabolic rate puts less strain on the body and reduces several aspects of ageing, such as oxidative stress (Redman et al., 2018). However, there also exist differences among and within species (Tyshkovskiy et al., 2023). Dogs, humankind’s perhaps most adaptable pet, come in many shapes and sizes and it’s also been observed that smaller dogs live longer lives than bigger breeds, which is the inverse of a larger body size predicting longevity (Yordy et al., 2020). Thus, the relationship between longevity and body size is not that simple but rather a result of many varying factors.

In humans there is less certainty whether a person’s body size is beneficial or detrimental to achieving longevity (Gunnell et al., 2001; Chmielewski, 2023). A person’s body size is a result of several factors, including genes but also access to nutrition and their sex. At the same time a greater height is seen as being an advantage socially with taller people often enjoying privileges (Stulp et al., 2015). Still, being tall has been found to be associated with a higher prevalence of some conditions, including atrial fibrillation and venous thromboembolism (Krieg et al., 2022). At the same time, a smaller stature is associated with a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and hypertension (Nüesch et al., 2016). Concerning longevity there are mixed results. Chmielewski (2023) has observed that taller people in Poland have a disadvantage in lifespan. Some researchers have noted that taller people have a lower mortality than their shorter peers at younger ages but that this changes over the age of 70 (Samaras, 2012). Salaris et al. (2012) observed that among a group of elderly men living on Sardinia shorter men lived two years longer on average.

Most interestingly perhaps, are studies on centenarians. It has been observed that centenarians are generally shorter and lighter than the people that die at ages 80-99 (Fu et al., 2021; Roth et al., 1995). Martinez et al. (2009) noted that Cuban male centenarians only were just over five feet on average and a study on Japanese centenarians in Okinawa noted that they were even shorter (Chan et al., 1997). Similarly, a Chinese study noted that female centenarians were on average 143 centimeters tall (Fu et al., 2021).

It must however be noted that a person’s height decreases as they age (Fernihough & McGovern, 2015). This is partially associated with a person’s socioeconomic status (Huang et al., 2013). A Polish study reported that the decrease in height between the ages of 50 and 100 were over 13 centimeters for both female and male centenarians (Broczek et al., 2005). Other researchers are more conservative in their results of height loss during the lifespan (Wannamethee et al., 2006; Huang et al., 2013). However, few studies have focused on centenarians and shrinkage at such advanced ages.

Narcissa Rickman her 108th birthday in 1963. (Source: The Asheville Times)

What about supercentenarians?

As would be expected, people who live longer than 110 years are often very short. One of the shortest supercentenarians on record was Narcissa Rickman (1855–1968), who was reported to only have been about four feet tall. Most female supercentenarians with reliable health records have reported their height in their younger days to have been around five feet. Similarly, few male supercentenarians have been reported to have stood taller than six feet. The tallest supercentenarian that I know of is Melvin Campbell (1910–2021) who was about 191 centimeters (over 6’2″) when he was drafted for World War II.

What have we learned?

If you want to live a longer life it is beneficial if you are a bit shorter than average, especially if you want to become a centenarian. Both being tall and being short are, however, associated with a higher prevalence of certain chronic conditions which may lead to a slight risk of increased mortality. As a person ages they will experience a shrinkage in stature, exactly how much being dependent on several factors, including socioeconomic status. Few studies have focused on how much a person shrinks by the time they are a centenarian; the one I could find indicated that a person loses close to ten percent of their height from age 50 to 100. There’s unfortunately a lot of missing data about supercentenarian heights and research on this subject would probably be of great interest to potentially further demonstrate the relationship between body size and longevity.
Persone viventi più longeve in Italia – Supercentenari d'Italia (

diego, Gabriel_PT, 024Tomi and 1 people reacted
Fan and researcher
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A 1987 study on Hungarian centenarians found the following:

For males (n=29, mean age=100.86), the mean height was 153.65 cm, the lowest was 143 cm, the highest was 164.2 cm. The mean weight was 55.59 kg, the lowest was 42 kg, the highest was 77 kg.

For females (n=80, mean age=100.71), the mean height was 142.21 cm, the lowest was 127.5 cm, the highest was 159.2 cm. The mean weight was 46.28 kg, the lowest was 31 kg, the highest was 82(!) kg.

It's quite astonishing at first that the highest of 109 examined centenarians (of both sexes) was only 164 cm tall. It must be said though that the mean height of Hungarian men born in the 1880s was around 168 cm - that, combined with the Polish study of finding people shrinking by 13 cm on average between the ages of 50 and 100, makes the mean male centenarian height of 153.65 cm very much believable. 

ESO Correspondent for Hungary (since 2020)
GRG Correspondent for Hungary (2020-2023)
Tracker and researcher of Hungarian and other Central European (super)centenarians (since 2016)
Enthusiast of extreme longevity (since childhood)

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