FOOD & FITNESS / JUN. 26, 2014
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Should You Swap Your Office Chair for an Exercise Ball?

The evidence against sitting for long periods continues to mount as many doctors and researchers alike feel that the more you sit, the higher your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. So what is the office chair warrior to do? Experts like Dr. Levine of the Mayo Clinic suggest moving more during your workday and one of the latest office worker trends involves swapping their trusty 'ol office chair for an exercise ball. But before jumping head first into the next office exercise fad pool, let's take a look at the hard facts about making the swap. 

Pros of an Exercise Ball Office Chair

Researchers agree that "active sitting" is a viable combatant to the health detriments of "passive sitting," which can cause muscle deterioration in the legs and trunk. Using an exercise ball to actively sit at the office could help you work your legs, core, and hips. This is because using an exercise ball as a chair requires low level neuromuscular activity in order for the body to maintain balance and proper posture. These subtle muscle contractions can help tone and strengthen large muscle groups in the core and legs.

Many users also say that making the switch has helped to reduce the everyday stresses of the office. Some employers feel that the increase in physical activity helps to improve staff productivity and creativity. In fact, Nancy Lynch, an adjunct professor at the University of Canisius College and president of Human Resources Consulting Associates in Buffalo, N.Y recently stated, "Activities that get people moving are also good for thinking and problem-solving." 

Cons of Making the Switch

According to Jessica Mathews, an assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, “Sitting on a ball creates an increased load on the lumbar (lower back) spine and discomfort over time. Prolonged periods of sitting, whether in a chair or on an exercise ball, can also lead to poor body mechanics and posture.” When you consider how the exercise ball works, this statement makes perfect sense. You must be continuously conscious of your posture while using the ball since your core strength is your only back support system when using it.

Mathews firmly believes that using the ball is better than not, but use should be limited to 20 or 30 minute intervals throughout the day. How you are seated on the ball makes all the difference; in order to improve strength and promote good posture, you should always sit on the ball with both feet firmly planted on the ground and your thighs should always be parallel to the floor. 

Exercise Ball Office Chair Tips for the Beginners

If you're thinking about giving the exercise ball office chair a-go, experts say take it slow. Jessica Mathews suggests that beginners start out their exercise ball office chair routine by using it only 20-30 minutes each day. As your core and leg muscles begin to strengthen, you can increase your exercise ball use; eventually reaching a 50/50 split between using your regular chair and exercise ball during your work day. Always make sure the ball is properly inflated so you can maintain the suggested sitting position. Bad positioning on the ball won't yield any health benefits, so mind your stance.

Regardless of whether or not the exercise ball office chair is for you, experts suggest moving more during your workday to improve your overall health. Instead of hitting the elevator, take the stairs; on your lunch break, try a little office yoga, regardless of what you try, you can be sure your body will thank you for it.

Image via Flikr by BuiltLean


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