For office workers who spend nearly eight hours a day seated at a desk, fatigue, stiffness and back pain can become a norm. Not only do these issues decrease productivity and efficiency in the workplace, but they can negatively impact your overall physical and mental health. One growing trend, believed by many to combat these effects, is swapping out the average desk chair for the so-called stability ball. A stability ball, also referred to as an exercise ball, is a large ball made from a soft elastic material and filled with air.
While traditionally, stability balls were used solely as an exercise tool, they are more and more being considered a piece of office furniture. Many believe that sitting on a stability ball helps to keep workers alert, awake, and quite literally, “on the ball”. However, before you commit to making this seat switch, the spine specialists of IGEA invite you to take a closer look at the pros and cons that exist within the office chair vs. exercise ball debate.
Do Stability Balls Really Keep You “On the Ball”?
Staying seated for prolonged periods of time means minimal muscle activity, which can result in physical and mental fatigue, as well as chronic back pain. However, the primary culprit of both fatigue and back pain in the work setting has more to do with poor posture. After even one hour of sitting, it’s easy to fall into the habit of slouching, which decreases core strength and ab movement. That’s where the idea of sitting on a stability ball comes into play. Stability balls, as the name suggests, requires stabilization on the user’s behalf. By keeping your core engaged, you’re working your muscles, which can result in increased alertness.
So, is it healthier to sit on an exercise ball all day?
It’s true that those who sit on a stability ball are activating their core, hips and legs, helping to maintain balance. While this can contribute to muscle tone, strength, and increased energy, the question becomes… how long can one maintain proper posture on the ball before slipping back into less than ideal posture?
The back and spine specialists at IGEA report that sitting on a stability ball for extended periods of time puts an increased load on the lower back and lumbar spine. Because there are no arm or back rests, your upper body is not properly supported, and you will likely experience strain on your neck and lower back. Couple the requirements to maintain form over hours with users who have poor posture and the stability ball may end up doing more harm than good.
Simple Ways to Stay Healthy at a Desk Job
Whether you choose to sit on an exercise ball or an office chair, it all comes down to posture. Unless you are able to balance on the ball while maintaining proper posture throughout the day, you will still be at risk for spinal structure damage and chronic back or neck pain.
Fortunately, there are many ways to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, despite being seated at a desk all day. While at the office, keep up with these best back practices to maintain neck and spine health while sitting:
- Whether typing or resting your arms on your desk, do your best to keep your upper arms parallel to your spine;
- Use a stand or prop-up your computer so that the screen is at eye level without having to tilt your head up or down;
- Keep your thighs parallel to the floor and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
There are also a handful of undoubtedly simple workday habits you can incorporate into your daily life that are designed to keep you physically healthy and mentally alert:
- Leave yourself “posture reminders”. It’s very easy to slouch through the day without even realizing it. Whether you sit on an exercise ball or in an office chair, leave yourself a friendly “Sit Up Straight!” post-it note or set a calendar reminder to go off every hour.
- Find reasons to move around. Even if you don’t have the ability to take a 15-minute walking break, there are still ways to sneak in a bit of exercise. Take the long route to the restroom or walk to your coworker’s desk rather than email or call. Alternatively, you could schedule “walking discussions” for casual meetings that don’t require a conference room.
- Get up, stand up. Standing desks are another growing office trend, designed to keep workers alert and energized while reducing the potential to begin slouching throughout the day. If your office has standing desks, make working from them a normal part of your day. Start simple; perhaps even for as brief as an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon.
- Be active outside of work. Make up for the inaction built-in to the 9-to-5 grind by incorporating a bit of physical activity into the rest of your day. Sign up for an evening yoga class or set your alarm a little earlier to fit in a morning walk.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Both excessive sugar intake and dehydration can lead to an afternoon crash, making it difficult to maintain good posture and focus. Stay hydrated by always having a water bottle on hand and pack nutritious lunches and snacks.
We’re Not Just Posturing Here – We’re ALSO Looking Out For Your Health
Don’t assume that opting for a stability ball, over a regular chair, will automatically mean you’re leading a healthier office lifestyle. For example, if you can maintain good posture when seated on an exercise ball, it could be an asset to any other habits you work into your regular workday routine. But if you cannot maintain proper posture, a stability ball will almost certainly do more harm than good.
IGEA’s team of spine specialists understands the realities of workplace fitness, health, and comfort. However, our team of back surgeons always encourage our clients to find as many opportunities to incorporate healthy behavior as they can. Take it from them: being “on the ball” means taking proper breaks, keeping active, and maintaining healthy posture during office hours. Do these simple things daily and you will save yourself pain, stiffness, and discomfort in the years to come.