Libby Norris takes questions from the mail bag
Published Monday, February 20, 2012 8:00AM EST
Libby Norris, Canada AM fitness expert - Question: I've been feeling more aches and pains in my low back while I'm working at my desk. Someone suggested I should use a stability ball chair. Is this different from a regular stability ball? Should I use a ball instead of my office chair?
Answer: Stability balls of all shapes and sizes are great tools to use to strengthen the core and postural muscles. Using a stability ball at home or at the office is a wonderful option for exercise or a break, but should definitely be limited because you can get too much of a good thing!
Here are a few things to consider:
It's work! Sitting on the ball does engage the core, but muscles do then fatigue; after all, you wouldn't do crunches or biceps curls all day!
Accidents happen -- you can roll and fall off the ball (that's not pretty at the office)
Height -- the ball might not be the right height for you or your desk height; you may end up wearing your shoulders for earrings creating a whole new issue!
Oh, my aching back -- engaging your core muscles does help support your back but when sitting all day, you low back needs support such as a lumbar support you'd find in a proper office chair
Mobility -- a ball doesn't have wheels to enable you to move or turn
Yes, a stability ball chair is different. A ball is mounted on a plastic frame with wheels which integrates it more for the office environment and solves some of the issues - but not all! These chairs are still best used for breaks as they do not provide sufficient low back support, do not adjust for proper height setting with your keyboard and can still end up fatiguing versus relieving core muscles when used for extended periods of time.
Guidelines for using a stability ball and/or stability ball chair:
- Break it up -- use for a break, not as your primary chair, particularly if you're sitting for extended periods of time
-- 10-min blocks with a stability ball
-- 30-min blocks with a stability ball chair
- Use with caution - pay attention when you're using these as you CAN slip and fall which can be damaging to your health and your image!
- Buy an anit-burst ball - you can find stability balls now for under $15, but if you're using them for this purpose, don't buy on the cheap! Anti-burst balls are made with plastics guaranteed to withstand specific pressures where you're taking your chances on the cheaper models
Question #2: Over the past year, I've felt a lot more fatigued by the end of my work week. I've also started feeling a lot of tightness in my one shoulder and my low back. I've tried doing stretch breaks, but I just can't seem to remember or to be able to fit them in regularly.
Answer: I love this question as I address this daily doing ergonomic assessments and talking with people about workplace wellness. We have become professional sitters. We all know we SHOULD take breaks, but the life and work happens and we often end up sitting for hours working without moving to meet deadlines and demands.
First, I like to explain what happens if we DON'T move! These are some of the most immediate effects on your body when you sit for prolonged periods:
- Muscle imbalance (one of the leading causes of injuries)
- Stress/strain on low back
- Stress on postural muscles
- Reduced blood flow - which impacts all our metabolic functions including brain activity!
We always hear, "take breaks every hour…", "do a 5-min stretch at your desk"….well, these all too often just don't happen as you get busy, forget, have deadlines, etc. The best way I find to get people to take breaks is to work them into your work. A change is (almost) as good as a rest!
Key Tip - Reverse Posture - this means whatever you do most for work, do the opposite to take a break (if you sit all day stand, if you stand all day sit, if you lean in all day…)
Breaks and Tips WHILE working:
- Stand when you can - when you're on the phone, pausing for thought, listening to messages
- Lean back in your chair - again, when you're on the phone, etc.
- Walk and talk - if you're on a headset or cell phone for a phone meeting, walk and talk or suggest a walking meeting; you increase circulation and stimulating your brain function and creativity!
- Hydrate - water is a key ingredient to keeping your metabolism moving; it also forces you to get up and move for more bio breaks!
- Deliver a message personally - SO many people send countless emails internally at offices; reduce the online exchange and go chat in person periodically
- Take the long way - if going to the copier, a meeting, the washroom, take a longer route just to have a few more minutes of movement
- Go on a secret mission -grab some files and briskly walk around the office with purpose; it's a great physical and mental break plus no one will stop you as you obviously look busy
Staying healthy at your desk is best approached in two ways:
1. Minimize stress -- set up your desk to optimize your posture and minimize the stress; keep your posture tall and your keyboard and mouse close!
2. Increase circulation -- when your circulation slows down, so does healing; moving regularly keeps oxygen flowing to your body and your brain along with countless other benefits!
For more information on how to set up your workstation properly, please visit www.libbynorris.com