The taller the better!
This is what most people believe. But if you are talking in terms of balance, then it won’t be correct to say the same.
Because being taller would definitely mean a reduced ability to maintain your balance. Research studies have shown that taller people are more likely to lose their balance and fall as compared to shorter people.
The reasons are simple. Let me explain why.
The effect of gravity
We all know that everything that goes up must come down!
This is one way of understanding what gravity means. Gravity is a force exerted by the earth, which causes the objects on and above the earth’s surface to be pulled down. However, this doesn’t work like that always.
Sometimes, gravity may also make things turn or topple over, especially when they are unbalanced or placed high up.
The best way to understand this concept is to watch tightrope walkers.
While tiptoeing over the wires placed up at a height, tightrope walkers often tend to wobble or teeter from side to side. But, within a fraction of seconds, they are able to regain their balance. They can do this because they perfectly understand how gravity works and how they can maintain the balance against this force.
This is why; they hardly fall off. Their instinctive understanding of the physics of different forces acting on their body helps them stay firmly on the wire. This physics of forces is what we call the concept of the center of gravity, which is of prime importance here when we are talking about why taller people are more likely to lose balance.
So, let’s check what center of gravity means and the role it plays in allowing us to maintain balance. We will also learn how the center of gravity is responsible for making taller people more likely to lose balance than shorter people.
What is the center of gravity?
If you throw a ball up in the air, it will obviously come down back to the earth because the gravitational force would pull it back. But, not every object is shaped like a ball, and neither can every object move in a linear direction like this when a gravitational force acts on it.
Since most objects are not neatly and evenly shaped like balls, the gravity acting on them works in a more complex way. So, the objects react to gravity differently as the stuff they are made from or their mass is concentrated at one particular point called the center of gravity.
For a simple spherical object like a ball, the center of gravity would be at a very obvious place, which is right at its geometrical center.
But, when the object is more complex in its shape and distribution of weight, such as a human body, it won’t work in the same manner.
The center of gravity of a human body is placed slightly higher than the level of the waist because more weight of your body is in the upper half than in the lower half. This means the gravity acting on your body will be centered at a point, which is a bit above your waist level, while ascertaining how you react to the force or pull it creates on your body.
The act or pull exerted by gravity would have to be balanced by other forces acting on your body or created within your body such as the force of contractions of the muscles in your abdomen and legs.
Now the location of the center of gravity here is what makes taller people lose balance more often than shorter people, especially when the other forces like muscle contractions are not strong enough to neutralize the effects of gravity.
Why do taller people have a reduced ability to balance themselves?
As told to you earlier, the center of gravity of a human body is placed at a height slightly above the waist. So, the center of gravity in the body of taller people is bound to be higher up than that of shorter people.
As the center of gravity shifts farther from the surface of the earth, it loses its core connection to the surface when a taller person is standing or walking making them trip over more easily.
So, having the center of gravity closer to the earth’s surface could be considered advantageous for shorter people as it allows them to maintain balance more efficiently.
This is one of the main reasons why taller people have higher chances of falling due to the inability to maintain balance.
The concept of the lever
Here is another reason why taller people can not maintain balance as efficiently as shorter people.
When you stand straight and try leaning over to the left or right side, you will notice that you can quickly reach a state at which you feel as if you are about to topple over. But, in this case, you are not actually moving. You are only turning about your back and ankles.
In this movement, your head tends to move faster than the knees and so, your entire body turns around the ankles just like a wheel.
So, here, gravity is not pulling your body only downward. It is also making you turn about in a circle with your ankles being at its center! So, if you are taller, your body will have to form a larger circle, from the ankle to the head, as your whole body would be acting like a lever, to allow the gravitational force to turn you around.
The larger circle of movement that occurs in taller people could be responsible for why they are more likely to lose balance. This is so because, in taller people, the lever creating the movement, which is your ankle in this case, is at a longer distance from the head where the movement is occurring at the highest speed. Your ankle is only providing a center or a firm grip for you to move around it. It is actually your head that is moving in one direction forming a circle around the ankle.
And in taller people, since the moving head would be at a longer distance from the anchor supporting it (ankle), the chances of falling would be more.
To know how this works, just try opening a door by pushing its handle with only one finger. You won’t have much difficulty in doing this. When any force pushes an object that can pivot freely (such as the door with hinges), that object would turn around the hinge in a circular fashion instead of moving in a linear direction.
Now, just try opening the same door by pushing it with your finger near the hinges. This time you are bound to find it much harder to move the door even by a few inches.
Because now the distance between the force you are exerting by your finger and the pivot point (hinge) is shorter. So, it would be harder for the force to make the door turn. The force would have to be much stronger if you want to push the door completely. This is also why wider doors are much easier to open than the narrower doors because the entire door would act as a lever, thus multiplying the force you exert while pushing the handle.
In the same manner, gravity can make a taller person move and topple easily than a shorter person. The increased distance between the force of gravity acting on your head moving in a circle around the ankle would be multiplied by a larger extent due to the longer distance between the lever (your ankles) that act as hinges, in this case, to keep you attached to the ground.
This is why, the body of the taller people moves more quickly and easily causing them to fall over.