You may have seen coworkers rolling around behind their desks at work and wondered what they were doing. It's likely they were sitting on a stability ball instead of a chair, which is rumored to have multiple health and fitness benefits. Below are some of the benefits of replacing your chair with one of these inflatable balls to help you decide whether one should be behind your desk.
The Benefits of Sitting on an Exercise Ball
There are several benefits of sitting on an exercise ball, as well as some rumored benefits that may not actually be true. You should consider why you are thinking of replacing your chair with an exercise ball and then see if that is an actual benefit.
When sitting on an exercise ball, you no longer have a back to lean against or armrests to lean on, so ideally, you will sit up straighter while you work. However, it is still possible and actually quite common to slouch while sitting on an exercise ball, so if you want the full postural benefits, you will have to remain conscious of how you are sitting and continue to remind yourself to sit up straight.
Less Confined Movement
Since you are less confined by an exercise ball, you are likely to move in a more natural way. For example, you can move your arm without having to reach around an arm rest. According to Medical News Today, this could reduce the onset of musculoskeletal disorders that are the result of sitting in the same position for too long, which often lead to lower back pain.
Burn More Calories
People may think that since you are sitting up straighter, and possibly moving more if you roll a lot while at work, you will burn more calories. This is true, but barely so. In fact, you only burn about four more calories per hour sitting on a medicine ball than you would sitting on a chair. So while you will burn about 30 more calories per day, don't expect to experience any noticeable weight loss from making the change.
Sitting on a stability ball is thought to increase your core strength because you use your back and abdominal muscles more as you stabilize yourself on top of the ball. A study published in Applied Ergonomics shows that this is true - sitting on a stability ball results in about "33% more trunk motion" and about 66% more lumbar muscle engagement than sitting on a chair does.
Increase Muscle Activation
Your core muscles aren't the only ones that benefit from your sitting on an exercise ball. An Indiana study mentioned in the Medical News Today article measured muscle activation when men made common workplace movements and found increased activation in unexpected muscles. For example, just by reaching to move a cup closer, many leg muscles fired to stabilize the body while the arm moved.
Remind You to Stretch and Move
While sitting on an exercise ball does not in itself burn substantially more calories, if you do leg lifts or other movements while sitting on the ball, you can burn significantly more calories during the day. According to the New York Times, many people report that sitting on a stability ball at their desk reminds them to move and stretch while they are at work.
Minimize the Damage of Sitting All Day
Sitting in a chair all day has unhealthy side effects. Studies show that sitting in a chair minimizes muscle activity so much that your body can suffer harmful metabolic effects within as little as a day. Since the Applied Ergonomics study shows that sitting on a stability ball all day results in more muscle usage, these effects may not be quite as pronounced.
Deciding to Replace Your Chair
While the benefits of using an exercise ball instead of a chair at your desk may sound appealing, be sure to consider the risks. For example, the Applied Ergonomics study also showed that sitting on an exercise ball results in more spinal shrinkage and therefore more pressure on your discs than one would experience from sitting on a chair. Another study showed that while sitting on a stability ball results in increased muscle activity, it also causes more discomfort. Make sure to consider all the pros and cons before switching out your desk chair to ensure you pick the best option for your needs.