New research cautions using exercise balls as chairs

| June 22, 2012 | 4 Comments
Elizabeth McClamb, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation fitness specialist, demonstrates exercise ball training at the Schofield Barracks Health and Fitness Center. Located in Bldg. 582, the center specialists offer daily classes in Body Blast, Boot Camp, and core training, which employs exercise ball instruction. (Jack Wiers | U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs)

Elizabeth McClamb, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation fitness specialist, demonstrates exercise ball training at the Schofield Barracks Health and Fitness Center. Located in Bldg. 582, the center specialists offer daily classes in Body Blast, Boot Camp, and core training, which employs exercise ball instruction. (Jack Wiers | U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs)

John Pentikis
U.S. Army Public Health Command

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS, Md. — In the past few years, much research has been devoted to trying to make workers healthier while working.

One of the more popular ideas is the use of an exercise ball to replace a traditional office chair. However, there seems to be a great deal of debate comparing the pros and cons of using an exercise ball as an office chair.

Exercise balls were not originally intended as a piece of exercise equipment, but rather as a therapy tool to improve balance and strength. The instability of an exercise ball forces the use of core muscles in the midsection. As an exercise tool, this instability is a positive feature because it is important to strengthen the muscles of the low back and abdomen.

Those same features, however, are not necessarily desirable for a chair.

Little research has been done on the effects of using an exercise ball as a full-time seat. One study suggested that extended sitting on an unstable seat surface does not really affect the overall spine stability. Sitting on a ball, however, appears to spread out the contact area, which could explain the reported discomfort.

Another study’s results found an increase in muscle use in certain back muscles, as well as an increase in discomfort while sitting on the stability ball.

From an ergonomics point of view, stability balls are not an effective solution for reducing low back pain in the workplace for these reasons:

•Active sitting increases the rate of fatigue due to constantly being off balance. In addition to fatigue, continuously maintaining your balance throughout the day may be an issue for some individuals and people with previous back injuries.

•Exercise balls do not have arm rests or back supports, which are key features in supporting the body.

•A reclined sitting position is the most comfortable position for the back, and an exercise ball does not allow you to sit in this position.

•There are also safety concerns if someone is not using the exercise ball properly. Exercise balls do not have a stable balance and present a potential safety risk of falling off of them, or the ball may pop, causing the user to fall.

In addition, a general user may not realize that a fully inflated exercise ball is going to be much more difficult to sit on than a less inflated ball.

The only situation recommended for extended use of an exercise ball is as a form of exercise. In an office setting, an exercise ball should only be used for a few minutes at a time, spread throughout the day for an exercise break, but not as a full-time desk chair.

Exercise balls are a great addition to a comprehensive exercise/health program. However, they are not a suitable addition to a comprehensive ergonomic computer workstation.

The best way to reduce low back fatigue and discomfort from sitting is to limit prolonged exposure to sitting to one hour and to choose a chair that allows you to change your sitting posture frequently throughout the day.

(Editor’s Note: Pentikis is an ergonomist at USAPHC.)

Exercise ball training

Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation health and fitness centers employ exercise ball instruction for a variety of classes. Cost of single classes begin at $3. An unlimited one month class card costs $35. For more information on DFMWR health and fitness programs go to www.himwr.com.

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Category: Army News Service, Community, Health

Comments (4)

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  1. Kelly Anderson says:

    Oh! Really? I am fond of doing this kind of exercise.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about workout. Regards

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