x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Balancing act: how hard is it to use exercises ball instead of chairs?

After multiple warnings that sitting all day is slowly killing them, National editors Felicity Campbell and Ann Marie McQueen decided to take action.

Exercise balls are recommended for strengthening the core and can reportedly help to burn up to 160 calories a day. Stone / Getty Images
Exercise balls are recommended for strengthening the core and can reportedly help to burn up to 160 calories a day. Stone / Getty Images

After multiple warnings that sitting all day is slowly killing them, National editors Felicity Campbell and Ann Marie McQueen decided to take action.

Ann Marie: I have been haunted ever since reading an article published in The Lancet last summer: a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston analysed global data on deaths in 2008 and concluded that inactivity contributed to slightly more deaths - from heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancers - than smoking. And while it used to be that sitting for six hours a day was considered unhealthy, the latest research puts that figure at three. So while I briefly considered taking up smoking to encourage myself to move about more during the work day, taking frequent breaks, exercising in the evening and swapping my desk chair for an exercise ball seems a wiser move. It is impossible to slouch while sitting on an exercise ball; using one strengthens the core and reportedly burns upwards of 160 calories per day. It has turned out to be quite an adventure.

Felicity: The balls came about because Ann Marie is a person who is very concerned about sitting down for long periods of time. Pre-ball she would set an alarm reminder to get up and go for a little walk. A former colleague had a ball she used to sit on and I wondered how and why she dared risk the ridicule and do it. But, after being drilled about sitting killing me, I decided enough was enough and it was time to take action on my posture. That, and I cave in to peer pressure really easily.

Day 1

Felicity: It was as embarrassing as anything blowing up our balls with an electric pump. It sounded like we were trying to jump-start a tractor at our desk cluster. From the furthest reaches of the office they came to heap scorn on us.

Ann Marie: After the kerfuffle that resulted from the inflation process, I quickly realised that I am in a position where you can see my ball but Felicity's is quite hidden. I tried to explain to those mocking me that "sitting kills" but they didn't appear to believe me. We did have fun making loads of references to "being on the ball", and "having a ball". No one else laughed. All in all I was only able to sit on my ball for two hours the first day.

Day 2

Felicity: I'll be honest with you - I am slightly afraid that the ball will pop and send me shooting backwards to crash against the window behind me. My body really hurts from yesterday.

Ann Marie: It was really hard to sit on the ball again today and I blame my flimsy ballet flats and lack of core strength. The muscles up my sides are aching. It's making work feel so much more like work. I've been staring at my office chair longingly.

Day 3

Felicity: Today was hard. I couldn't focus on my work and I couldn't work out why, but then it dawned on me that the concentration of balancing on the ball was taking its toll. I rocked and rolled a lot and nearly went over backwards. I had headphones on and they got yanked off my head. I heard sniggering.

Ann Marie: I spent a lot of time on the ball today. I don't horse around like Felicity because I am very afraid of falling off. I am also constantly worried it is deflating.

Day 4

Felicity: I was not well so I couldn't sit on the ball very much. Also, I think it's making my jaw ache from the energy it takes.

Ann Marie: Felicity says she's not well; she hasn't sat on her ball all day. Oh, wait - she just said: "I think I'll be back on the ball tomorrow." Still hilarious.

Day 5

Ann Marie: Today I sat on my ball for six hours in a row! I think it was the sturdy shoes I was wearing. It is so much easier when you have a firm footing. I could not believe how straight I was able to keep my back and I definitely feel stronger. So while I still have to sit for way longer than three hours a day, at least I can make the process much less passive.

Felicity: I feel as though I did a big workout with sit-ups and squats. And all I did was sit at my desk like normal. I like the ball.

Inflatable exercise balls - 75cm versions are suitable for most workspaces - are available at local sporting goods shops for about Dh70