People with desk jobs are tired of sitting all day. So much so, in fact, that many are bringing their gym equipment to work with them in the effort to combine the daily grind with fitness. In a surprising leap of innovation, people from executives to administrative assistants are swapping out their office chairs for fitness balls in the effort to tone their glutes and quads while alleviating the aches and pains that sedentary work can cause, says Prevention magazine.
Why Traditional Office Chairs Cause Pain
One reason office chairs seem so uncomfortable is the result of poor posture. When you sit down to work each day, your body settles in, your abdominal muscles relax and your core muscles take a break. The seat of the chair, no matter how ergonomically designed, bears the brunt of your body weight. Poor posture means your body is not naturally aligned, and when you sit for extended periods in misalignment, your muscular and skeletal structures suffer, according to Prevention.
Fitness Ball Basics
A fitness ball is also called a Swiss ball, yoga ball, pilates ball, or stability ball. It comes in various sizes and is typically made of soft vinyl or plastic material. It is inflatable, which means you can adjust its firmness according to your needs. When choosing a ball to use as a chair, you should consider both the appropriate ball for your height and for the height of the desk. If you sit too high on the ball, you could experience neck strain from hunkering over your work. If the ball is too low, you could strain your neck from craning it to see your work space. Similarly, a ball sized too small for your height and leg length may bring on cramping in your quads from bending your legs uncomfortably for a prolonged time period. With your feet flat on the floor, your legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle, or slightly less, according to spine-health.com. Be sure to inflate the ball according to the manufacturer’s directions to get the most benefit from it. If it is over-inflated, you may find it to be just as uncomfortable as an under-padded desk chair. If under-inflated, you may not be getting the most fitness benefit for your buck, says spine-health. Finally, investing in a higher quality fitness ball designed for rugged gym use can help you avoid the discomfort and embarrassment of a blowout. High-end stability balls tend to have thicker skins that are more resistant to damage than cheaper equipment.
Pros of Sitting on a Stability Ball
The National Institutes for Health reports several studies on the effects of switching from a traditional chair to a stability ball. In one session, test subjects sat for one hour on a ball while working at their computers. Among the benefits they reported are:
An increase in overall active muscle use
Activation of spinal area muscles
Greater overall metabolic response
Greater oxygen consumption – 10 to 16 percent higher
An increase in thigh muscle flexing
Cons of Sitting on a Stability Ball
All the feedback is not positive, however, when it comes to using a fitness ball in lieu of an office chair, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command. Some of the negative affects you may experience include:
Lower back strain due to an increase in load on the lumbar area
Discomfort caused by the backless, armless seating
An increase in fatigue due to active sitting
Variety Offers the Best Benefits
The research suggests that you can enjoy the benefits of active sitting as well as the support your body needs by switching back and forth during the day between your ergonomically designed desk chair and an appropriately sized fitness ball. Better yet, mix in some standing time at your desk as well. Try to mix things up before you feel any strains (especially when starting out), and if you do start to feel a slight strain when using the ball, trade it for your chair for a bit, or try standing. By adopting active sitting and standing slowly, you can add fitness to your work routine painlessly while gleaning the benefits of a better-toned body while avoiding the cons of sitting in a chair all day.