The question: I have seen some people at work sitting on exercise balls at their desks. I am curious if it is a healthy option. I think this will also help me be more aware of my posture and core. Could you please advise?
The answer: I am thrilled you are brainstorming ways to improve your workspace! Excessive sitting (especially if you have poor body awareness) can result in bad posture, muscle imbalances, stiffness and lack of circulation. A sedentary lifestyle can be harmful, but, unfortunately, it is often simply unavoidable.
Sitting on a ball can help to improve posture and body awareness, especially if you are a stability ball newbie. If you don't already work out on the ball, the instability will challenge your balance and force you to become more body-aware. You will have to sit up, or risk falling.
Quick note – if the aesthetic of the ball doesn't jive with your work environment, try sitting on a an inflatable cushion. Common brands are the Sit Fit and GoFit Core Disk. Inflatable balance cushions offer many of the same benefits of the ball, but are more inconspicuous.
Unfortunately, once your body gets used to the instability of the ball or cushion, you will find ways to cheat. Your posture will probably slowly return to your normal (often hunched) position.
If you are familiar with working out on the ball, this acclimatization process will most likely occur at a relatively quick rate.
Plus, sitting on a ball is still sitting. I am not saying don't use the ball, just know the ball is not the miracle cure for mitigating the negative effects of sitting.
Whether you sit on a ball or a chair, get up as often as possible to stretch and walk around. Set an alarm to remind you to check your posture, drink water and, when possible, walk around and stretch.
Even better, get yourself an adjustable desk so you can work while standing and sitting. If your workplace can't splurge, make yourself a standing desk out of whatever is available. My clients often use their high filling cabinets.
Trainer's tip: Another obvious, but often overlooked, way to mitigate the negative effects of sitting is to ensure your workspace is ergonomically correct. If you have never had an ergonomic assessment, start there!
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.