Many of our clients are office workers and find sitting to be a significant requirement of their work. Continuous sitting has been widely reported over the past few years to be negative for a wide variety of health metrics. As a result we get frequent questions in the clinic as to whether there might be benefit in sitting on an exercise ball instead of a regular chair. Most people are familiar with the ball in a gym setting where it is regularly used as a vehicle for enhancing core stability (more on this in a future post).
It is a good question with lots of positive (and some negative) anecdotal evidence to say that it might be useful. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any significant high quality studies to successfully answer the question.
Nevertheless I like the ball and not just in the gym as a piece of exercise equipment. To be clear, sitting on a ball will not instantly and magically improve your posture but because it is more mobile it will invite you to sit more actively. It encourages (and requires) more muscle engagement to sit tall on the ball but that is part of our goal. Most of my clients who have made the switch do so slowly. So a few thoughts if you are thinking of becoming a ball convert.
- Make the change slowly. Aim for a 20 minute period a few times a day and increase it by 10 minutes each week. When you get to an hour at a time you are really doing well.
- Get the right size ball for you and keep it properly inflated.
- Don’t toss your actual chair! See point 1. You will want somewhere to sit if you fatigue or are getting more discomfort in your back.
- It is completely possible to do an awful job of sitting on the ball. If you constantly find yourself looking like the figure to the right then go back to a regular, supportive chair. You will be better off.
- Give yourself time to adapt. Many clients are initially a little uncomfortable with muscle fatigue but this gets better over a few weeks as your muscles and mind adapt to the new active sitting arrangement.
- Think about throwing some exercises in using the ball to help break up the day. More on that in a future post.
Matt Powell is an experienced sports physiotherapist, bike fitter and cyclist. He is the owner of West 4th Physiotherapy.
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