I walked into a colleague's classroom about a month ago to find her sitting at her desk on an exercise ball. Now Christine is ultra fit, does yoga, and runs regularly. I was happy for her, but oh so jealous of a recent Facebook post where she just cranked out 22 miles on a Saturday morning as I struggle to run just 2. I asked about its significance and then did some "research" of my own. Turns out that there's said to be a couple of health benefits to using an exercise ball for a desk chair. I would consider myself an undiagnosed ADD type so sitting and bouncing all day does wonders for my mental health as well.
Benefit #1: The Calorie Burn
The increase in the calorie burn is real but small. According to a 2008 study, performing clerical work at a desk while sitting on an exercise ball burns about four more calories an hour than the same activity in a chair, or roughly 30 extra calories in a typical workday. That figure, however, does not factor in the additional burn that would come from routines like bouncing or leg lifts, which many users say the balls inspire them to do. (NY Times Article). When I'm sitting on the ball, my core is engaged and I feel less likely to slouch. If I disengage my core, I'll fall off and God knows I don't want to give these high school students any more reasons to laugh at me than they already have. For this reason, I am now known as an "active sitter".
Benefit #2: Posture and Alignment
Because an exercise ball is not stable, your body needs to try to balance itself on it. The perfect spinal posture is coincidentally, the easiest to balance with. Your body will automatically try to align itself into the proper posture. This helps improve your spinal health, and decrease back pains. (Gear Fire) When I was about 9 years old, I my breasts begin to show and continued to be more prominent in 5th and 6th grade well before other girls. I was ashamed of this so developed terrible posture that I'm still trying to correct 17 years later. The ball is definitely helping with that as I notice myself sitting up straighter at the dinner table, while driving, and while preparing dinner.
There are many reports out there that are inconclusive with regards to the benefits and detriments of using the ball. I've been using it for the past 2 weeks and, so far so good. I fidget less, feel more energetic, am keeping my posture in check, and giving my core more of a workout than it would otherwise get at work.
If you're considering trying it, know that the ball come in different sizes (55cm, 65cm, and 75cm). The ball that I use is a 65cm ball because I'm 5' 5''.
I bought my ball at Walmart for about $10. I didn't want to spend too much on it just in case I didn't like it. At the very least, if it didn't work out I could just take it home and use it for workouts. I'd also caution those of you with lower back injuries to consult a physician before trying this out. There are case studies that support the use and others that discourage it.
So has anyone else tried it? Please share your experiences!