I did a double-take the first time I observed someone sitting on one. She was wearing an attractively tailored suit and typing away at her computer. And she was not using a chair but, instead, sitting on a stability ball.
The large, 55- to 65-centimeter inflatable balls help "posture, balance and core strength," according to Consumer Reports on Health. Think of it as an extra-firm, completely round bean-bag chair, but without any beans — sort of like perching on a cushiony nest.
I want one. After all, the wheeled arm-chair in my study is incredibly creaky and not all that comfortable. It gets stuck on the rug sometimes, and I lurch forward while typing, putting exclamation marks where they do not belong. With a stability ball, I would never do that. At least, that's the vision.
And these inflatable balls only cost about $30 (so I'm told). They're incredibly practical too, because if I needed extra space for visiting grandchildren, I could simply deflate the ball, and they could help. This idea just keeps getting better.
Research tells us how important it is to get more physical activity throughout life but especially in our later decades. The American Council on Exercise reminds us we need 30 minutes a day of "moderate intensity aerobic exercise five days a week" in addition to two or three days a week of strength or resistance training.
The article in Consumer Reports on Health suggests "nothing beats working out in your own home" or "how to get fit without using a gym."
I've tried gyms. I always think they'll be perfect for me, and they never seem to be. So the idea of turning my favorite writing and reading environment in our home into an exercise experience is very compelling.
The article had other suggestions, such as jump ropes, hula hoops and elastic resistance bands. But I'm drawn to the stability ball. I think I'll get mine in a fiery red color, maybe with a yellow strip, if they come that way. Now you may be thinking, "Is sitting on an inflated ball safe for an aging person?" Good question.
In pondering the possibility, I came across an eight-minute YouTube video, "Exercise Ball Safety for the Older Adult." It showed a 60-something father and his college-age son demonstrating the importance of having the stability ball placed close to a wall (so if you tip back you won't go careening into space) and large enough so your legs are at a 90-degree angle. Once he got the hang of it, the dad even lifted dumbbells while sitting on the ball. But the aging father seemed wobbly throughout — which is entirely at cross purposes with the term "stability" — and he clearly needed his son's presence in order to stay on the ball and fully erect. It was a little unsettling, and then I realized I was doing what we should all do regarding exercise — making an informed choice.
So, for now, I'll pass on the stability ball and stay with my colorful resistance bands and twice daily walks. You can, however, expect to see random exclamation marks!
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor in public health and human sciences. You can reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com.