Should You Use an Exercise Ball as a Chair?

Using a Stability Ball as a Desk Chair
Using a Stability Ball as a Desk Chair. Darren Robb/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Multiple studies confirm the negative effects of too much sitting, from slowing down your metabolism to increase your risk of diabetes. Besides counteracting that by getting up frequently and walking, some people have swapped an exercise ball—also called a yoga or stability ball—in place of their regular desk chair to achieve "active sitting."

Rather than the slumping and poor posture you can develop even in ergonomic desk chairs, the theory is that using a stability ball—which is inherently unstable—like a desk chair forces your body to constantly make small adjustments in your core and lower body, resulting in abdominal strength and better posture.

While researchers agree that sitting for long periods of time isn't healthy, as far as the effectiveness of an exercise ball as a desk chair—the results are more mixed.

Possible Health Benefits

A 2012 study found that office workers who used an exercise ball percieved improved posture, more energy, and better overall balance. Researchers in a 2017 study actually monitored how bodies physically reacted over a 10-minute sitting period and concluded that while there wasn't any core engagement, sitting on a stability ball activated lower body muscles.

Many proponents also believe sitting on a ball encourages exercise. Once you have the ball handy, it's easy to just roll back from the desk and do a few ab crunches. As opposed to having a workout mat in your office, an exercise ball can support your hips and keep your hair in place for when you have to get back to work.

Where the Evidence Is Lacking

Despite its increased popularity, some studies have found little to no connection between using an exercise ball in the workplace and the purported benefits. In fact, some of the research shows the potential for injury.

  • No Core Activation: Studies are split on the theory that sitting on an exercise ball increases core strength. While one analysis found that this form of active sitting engages the core muscles, others found no difference in how the core is used between an exercise ball and a regular desk chair.
  • Insignificant Calorie Burns: If there's any energy expenditure when sitting on an exercise ball, it's fractional and not enough to reduce the health risks of sitting too long, according to a 2015 study.
  • Increased Pain: Sitting for prolonged periods can lead to back pain, but using a stability ball may have a similar effect. One study found almost half of those who used the ball reported some pain when using it.

Takeaway

If you experience any pain when using an exercise ball as a chair, discuss with your medical provider and consider discontinuing use.

Precautions

If you decide to use an exercise ball at your desk, keep these factors in mind to get the most out of your new chair and ensure safety.

Consider the Size

Your ball's height, angle, and inflation level all make a difference. Your thighs should slope downwards slightly rather than be at 90 degrees, but the ball shouldn't be so tall that you end up balancing your wrists on the keyboard.

Create a Safe Space

Particularly during initial use—and if you have the freedom to customize your work station—it may be helpful to place your ball in front of a wall to catch you if you roll. An exercise mat can provide cushion and support for the same reason.

Build Time Gradually

When starting out using a ball, you can begin with a half-hour or less and build up your time each day to see how you tolerate it. Rather than using a ball chair exclusively, you may want to alternate between an ergonomic desk chair, a ball chair, and other forms of active workstations. In addition to ball chairs with frames, wheels, and lumbar support, there are other alternatives, like a treadmill desk or a Deskcycle, that can increase activity.

A Word From Verywell

Despite its popularity among physical therapists, kinesiotherapists, and personal trainers, research studies haven't solidified the benefits of using an exercise ball as a chair. If you're considering alternatives, you might want to investigate other options like sit-stand desks and balance chairs. If you have back pain or other musculoskeletal disorders, use caution when changing chairs for hours of sitting.

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