The Sense Of Balance

Watch this.

It’s called balance. It takes practice. Everyone can learn to do it – Up to a point, at least.

If you want to try it, here is a web link with instructions. But don’t expect it to work right away. Keep at it!

How to walk a tightrope

  • Which parts of your body need close attention when you try this? Check the instructions – It’s easy to tell.

THE SENSE OF BALANCE

Many parts of your body must work together to keep you balanced. And they must do it all the time, not only when you try to walk a tightrope. That’s why you don’t fall over when you sit at the dinner table, or when you go down the stairs, or when you dance. But the body part which controls the whole process – the control centre – is not mentioned in the instructions.

  • Can you guess what it is? (Need a hint? It’s the same body part that controls everything else about you.) Use these links to learn more.

Your body’s control centre

Locate the region(s) involved in balance control

Most of the time your body keeps its balance automatically. A continuous flow of data keeps the control centre informed on how your body is positioned and how it is moving relative to its surroundings. This information comes in through several channels. The control centre puts this information together, and uses it to tell your body what to do to stay balanced. The process is so smooth, you don’t even realize it happens! To understand it better, check out this weblink.

The human balance system

  • Which are the input channels? How do they gather and send the data to the control centre?
  • What happens in the control centre? Where is learned information stored, and how is it used?
  • Which body parts are directed to respond? How is balance achieved?

BALANCE in SPORTS

So yes, keeping your balance takes practice. Without practice, there is no learned information available, and no balancing! The more you practice, the better your chance at tightrope walking, gymnastics, ice-skating…you name it. Here is another question for you:

  • How is the sense of balance used in mountain biking?

  • Can you think of another sport or activity that challenges our balance system?

BALANCE in ANIMALS

It’s amazing what humans can do, isn’t it? But, when it comes to balance, some animal species are way better than humans. Take cats, for instance. How confidently a cat can walk on a thin fence!

You can learn more about cats’ acrobatics skills here:

Why do cats land on their feet

  • How is a cat’s sense of balance like a human’s? How is it different?
  • And do cats need practice, too?
  • By the way…If there was a tightrope contest open to all animals, which one would win? But would it even be fair to hold such a competition? What do you think?

BALANCE DISORDERS

Every now and then we lose our sense of balance. We feel dizzy. We fall. Sometimes, the well-coordinated balancing process fails. It happens even to cats! When we do things that challenge our sense of balance, which we don’t usually do in our everyday lives, feeling dizzy is normal. But sometimes we feel dizzy without doing anything out of the ordinary. We sit up in bed, or walk across the floor, and suddenly the room is spinning. It’s called vertigo. The balance system is not supposed to fail under such ordinary circumstances, but sometimes it does. What could go wrong? Go to these web links to find out.

  What is vertigo?

Learn about causes of balance disorders

As you can tell, the treatment varies depending on the problem. Say you were diagnosed with a balance disorder…

  • What will the doctor most likely recommend?

But what if common treatments don’t work for you? It happens! Alternative treatments are being developed and tested as we speak. Learn about new treatments here.

New hope for untreatable balance disorders

How are these new treatments supposed to work?

  • ear implants
  • gene therapy
  • manipulation of the perception of dizziness

BALANCE and SPACE TRAVEL

And since we’re already talking about balance problems… Do you know when you are sure to have such problems even if you are completely healthy?

That’s right, in space travel! The human body is adapted to life on earth, and living in space is quite different.

  • What is a main feature of life on earth that is missing in space?

Clearly, space travel is tough on the whole body, not just the balance system. Check out this link to learn more: The body in space

PROJECTS

  • The importance of eyes and ears in balance and dizzinessTwirls, Whirls, Spins, and Turns: The science and reflexes of dizziness 
  • Explore the physics of balance – Balancing Act: Finding your centre of gravity
  • Debate the practice of extreme sports – Is the thrill worth the risk? Research biographies of people who practice extreme sports. Get in touch with them, if you can. Find out about their motivations and challenges. Why do they do it? What does it take? The aim of your research is to form an opinion on whether the rewards of doing extreme sports are worth the risks. You will prepare a presentation to defend your opinion in front of an audience. After listening/watching several presentations, the audience will vote.
  • Investigate the benefits of yoga – How does yoga help people? Should it become more widespread? Plan and conduct controlled experiments to find out how people benefit from yoga practices. Write a report to describe what you did, discuss your findings and provide answers on the benefits of yoga for individuals and the society.

 

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