Sharpening the Mind Through Movement:  Using Exercise Balls as Chairs in a University Class

By John Kilbourne, Grand Valley State University

Research That Matters

Objective:
The objective of this project was to explore the use of UltiFit Antiburst
Stability Balls (exercise balls) as seats for students in lecture classes at
Grand Valley State University. The title of the course was MOV 101,
“The History and Philosophy of Sport and Physical Education.” The hypothesis
was that using the exercise balls as seats would be a positive experience for
students in a university lecture class. Quantitative data (questionnaires) and
qualitative data (student comments) were collected from the students at the
conclusion of the 14-week semester, fall 2008.

 

Read full article/study. pages 10-18 

SPPS LIVE , MN.  DEC. 2007.
More than 50 classroom teachers, physical education teachers, therapists and support staff attended a stability ball training hosted by Student Health and Wellness and funded by Steps to a Healthier MN, St. Paul.
Saint Paul Public Schools staff members get on the ball Steps to a HealthierMN—St. Paul hosts Stability Ball training for 50 plus staff More than 50 classroom teachers, physical education teachers, therapists and support staff attended a stability ball training at Jackson Preparatory Magnet School on November 1. The training was hosted by Student Health and Wellness and funded by Steps to a HealthierMN— St. Paul. Lisa Witt of WittFitt facilitated the training session. WittFitt promotes the use of the stability ball as a sitting device to enhance the learning environment and provide ergonomic seating. The many benefits of sitting on stability balls include: promoting learning through movement; active sitting with no classroom disturbance; enhances attention and concentration; assists in improving posture; improves blood flow to all parts of the body, especially the brain; strengthens core (postural) and back muscle groups; improves balance and coordination. Those who attended the training hope to integrate the stability balls into their classrooms, therapy sessions and office spaces. Check the Student Health and Wellness website for registration information for another WittFitt Stability Ball training in Spring 2008. This training will be a repeat of the November training. There will be a fee involved. For Stability ball training information go to www.studentwellness.spps.org

WORKING MOTHER MAGAZINE, AUG. SEPT. 2007.

When Lisa Witt was a grade school teacher in Colorado and replaced her uncomfortable chairs with a stability ball, she realized she was literally sitting on a good idea.

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WALL STREET JOURNAL, NY. FEB. 2007.

New Workplace Trend Replaces Office Chairs With Gym Balls; A Debate Over Health Benefits
By ANJALI ATHAVALEY
February 27, 2007

 

People have searched for the perfect office chair for decades, one comfortable, adjustable and easy on the back. Now some professionals are abandoning chairs altogether — in favor of parking their hind quarters on a giant rubber ball. Long used by fitness buffs and physical-therapy patients, those big spheres you see at the gym (commonly known as exercise balls) are rolling into an increasing number of workplaces as a seating option. Google Inc., a company that prides itself on its unconventional office culture, displays several balls on its campus in a recruitment video available online. But more-staid employers, including BMW AG and Bain & Co., the international consulting firm, are allowing employees to bring in balls or ball chairs for personal use as well. Manufacturers and distributors report that sales of the balls are up sharply. They even made an appearance on the TV show “The Office,” when one character, irritated by the incessant bouncing, stabs a colleague’s ball. Devotees say exercise balls, whose circumference ranges from about 18 to 30 inches, help improve posture and concentration. Sitting upright on them requires using abdominal and lower back muscles. Yet some ergonomists warn against balls in the cubicle. “The experience I’ve heard from people is that it’s difficult to use for a long time,” says Peter Budnick, president and CEO of Ergoweb Inc., an ergonomic consulting company in Park City, Utah. Sitting on the ball for hours at a time could cause people to eventually relax their muscles and slump forward, he says. The ball also lacks the adjustments that come with an office chair — there is no way to raise the height to fit the height of your desk and keyboard — and the ball offers no back or arm support. There are other potential complications. Adjusting oneself on the ball can be tough — especially for women who wear short skirts. Slouching can result in a tumble. It can also be an office safety hazard, says Andrew Concors, a physical therapist and certified industrial ergonomist at San Diego-based CPT Consulting.

He has had a couple of patients in the past who have ruptured their balls at home while sitting on them and Some employees at the New York office of Naked Communications, a London-based marketing-strategy firm, opt for exercise balls over desk chairs. doing exercises. The ball also has a tendency to roll, which could cause other employees to trip. Still, some workers say sitting on a ball makes them feel younger. “It kind of reminded me of when I was a kid,” says Patricia Harder, director of training and development at Healthtrax Inc., a Glastonbury, Conn.-based company that operates fitness and wellness centers. Ms. Harder bought a ball chair for herself a couple of years ago. When she began working at home, the chair went with her. Now, she says, sitting on regular chairs is a turnoff. Many employees supply their own balls at the office, but companies are starting to make them available, saying their oddity helps foster a creative environment and encourages better posture. Last summer, Sprint Nextel Corp. stuck about a dozen balls in its Overland Park, Kan., and Reston, Va., offices to inspire creativity among employees in the product-development group. The U.S. headquarters of Naked Communications, a London-based marketing-strategy consultant, purchased balls for eight or nine employees who requested them. Besides the physical benefits, the balls make work more entertaining, a company executive says. “We always have music playing, so you can bounce,” says Paul Woolmington, a founding partner of the firm, while bobbing up and down on a gray ball. He adds: “A lot of people like it because it does discipline you on your posture.” At BlueSky Strategies Inc., a communications-strategy firm in Toronto, employees have races on ball chairs, which roll easily, when they need a break from work. Sometimes they even do it backwards, says Ingrid Rubin, the firm’s president. Some medical professionals warn that while the ball can be beneficial for short periods of time, prolonged usage can result in exhaustion. “I see value in it for the younger person who can tolerate it,” says David Apple, medical director emeritus of the Shepherd Center, a hospital in Atlanta that treats people with spinal-cord injury and disease. But, he adds, “they may need to work up to having it for eight hours.” Also, he says that while the ball may help young people who are in shape, he wouldn’t recommend it for those over 50. “You have to maintain your balance. If you have to turn and answer the phone, you could conceivably fall off.” First introduced in the 1960s, exercise balls — also known as stability balls, Swiss balls and balance balls — have been used in gyms for years. More recently, technology companies brought them into the workplace.

In European classrooms, the balls are often used instead of chairs. Exercise balls, typically priced at about $25 — a bargain compared to $900 to $1,600 for an Aeron chair — is now making inroads into larger companies as well as U.S. schools. Last year, the Perkins Academy, a public school in Des Moines, Iowa, began offering the balls to 4th- and 5th-graders who obtain parental consent. Three balls have deflated in one 5th-grade classroom this year, although not while children were sitting on them. Shelly Johnson, the teacher, blames staples or other sharp objects. She says that children have rolled off the ball on occasion, but they have never received serious injuries. Ball Dynamics International LLC, a Longmont, Colo.-based company that manufactures FitBall brand balls in North America, has seen a 10% year over year increase since 2004 in sales of its ball chairs. Broomfield, Colo.-based Gaiam Inc. says it has seen sales of its balance ball chair — which is geared toward office users — nearly quadruple over the last three years. Other companies say that the growing popularity of Pilates — a workout regimen that makes use of exercise balls — is helping make the balls more popular. Stott Pilates, a subsidiary of Merrithew Corp., which sells Pilates videos and equipment, has seen an 82% increase in ball sales from 2004 to 2006. The company, which began offering the ball in 2004, sold more than 11,000 balls last year.

Some in the ball industry say that the benefits of the ball, which keeps people active while sitting, outweigh the concerns. “Because you buy a ball that fits your height and your frame and your size, you are sitting properly,” says Lisa Witt, founder of WittFitt LLC, a company that markets balance balls to schools and offices. She recommends that novices start out using the ball in 30-minute increments. Many people opt instead for “ball chairs,” which come with a frame and are consequently more stable and somewhat less eccentric-looking. In the corporate office of Food Fight Inc., a Madison, Wis.-based restaurant group, Lisa Schell and Brian Zach are the selfproclaimed ball-chair guinea pigs. The sight of the odd-looking chairs always draws comments from employees and mail carriers. Ms. Schell says. “I think people would like to have one, but they are afraid to have it.” In some offices, employees who sit in regular chairs are developing ball envy. At PJ Inc., a New York-based public relations firm, when a new employee showed up with a ball chair on her third day of work, people stared. “It was kind of like, who is this strange girl who brought a chair in with her?” says Charis Heelan, a coworker. “That was until we sat in it.” The employees are now fascinated with the space-age looking chair. It has also become a conversation starter when clients visit the office. “When she’s not at her desk, we all go and sit on her chair,” Ms. Heelan says. “There’s a bit of jealousy.” Write to Anjali Athavaley at anjali.athavaley@wsj.com Corrections & Amplifications: Exercise balls typically range from 18 to 30 inches in diameter. This article incorrectly states that their circumference ranges from 18 to 30 inches.

THISWEEK ONLINE, MN.  DEC. 2006.

Having a ball in school Local school first to trade chairs for stability ball program
Posted: 12/8/06 by Laura Adelmann

This week newspapers Christian Heritage Academy in Lakeville is encouraging students to get on the ball during class. Literally. This week, students in grades 6, 7 and 8 will begin earning a chance to trade in their chairs for balls, or “ball chairs” as Lisa Witt, president of WittFitt likes to call them. Witt, a former teacher, has developed a unique program that replaces traditional chairs with stability balls to help improve posture, increase attention and decrease squirming at home, work and in schools. Christian Heritage Academy (CHA), a private school at Cedar Avenue and Dodd Boulevard, is the first school in Minnesota to use Witt’s program. CHA Principal Gail Wolfe said the balls will be used in math and history classes, where teacher Carmen Scherman noticed some students’ attention and focus was lacking. “Some of the kids were sluggish, especially during classes at the end of the day,” said Wolfe. Instead of students wriggling in uncomfortable chairs, on the balls they can gently bounce in place or roll back and forth to keep alert. The balls require students to use their back and stomach muscles, strengthening these core muscle groups in the process, said Witt. But if the introduction of balls into a classroom for purposes of reigning-in attention seems contradictory, Witt dismisses teacher’s nightmarish pictures of wild kids playing ball bumper cars during class. Her program is designed so the students don’t get the ball chairs until they’ve completed a series of prepared short lessons that include teaching their proper use. “Part of the lesson is also that the kids are creating rules they have to abide by. They sign a contract which sets those parameters” she said. Some of the more common rules limit how much kids bounce and how far their feet are off the floor. The lessons, in addition to meeting some state standards, introduce students to the benefits of using the balls and demonstrates correct posture and proper use of the equipment. Witt said the balls encourage proper posture, which increases blood flow and breathing, all things that brain research has shown improves the brain’s ability to absorb information. Students are measured to ensure proper fit of the balls, which come in various sizes and have feet on the bottom to prevent rolling. The balls may also be inflated or deflated to ensure each student is positioned in an ergonomically correct fashion, and modifications can be made to accommodate students with special needs. Having a ball in school http://www.thisweek-online.com/2006/December/8lkvlschoolballs129.html 2 of 4 3/17/2008 10:42 AM Because the balls require extensive use of back and stomach muscles, it can take some time to get used to the change. To accommodate the transition at CHA, traditional chairs will be replaced with the balls incrementally. Any students who abuse the privilege. Witt said, should have them taken away and be relegated to the regular chair. Last week, Witt visited the school to give Scherman and physical education teacher Linda Paschka a hands-on training session. Paschka, who first suggested the school look into the program after reading an article about WittFitt, will also use the balls in her gym classes. Witt said other schools around the nation are beginning to use the balls, and they have been used successfully in Europe for years. Costs for materials, training and equipment vary depending on the situation, but range from about $800 to $5,000. Witt says she does not sell the balls without the training but can do the training over the phone for schools wishing to save money. For more information, visit www.wittfitt.com.

KODIAK DAILY MIRROR, AK.   NOV. 2009.

Stability in the classroom East Elementary class uses balls to sit on instead of chairs Article published on Friday, November 13th, 2009
By LOUIS GARCIA
Mirror Writer – kodiakdailymirror.com.

 

Big, blue, bouncy stability balls are what 20 students get to sit on when learning at East Elementary School. Fourth-grade teacher John Malloy, who is in his 11th year teaching at East, had read about stability balls in classrooms from a Colorado newspaper article. So, he decided to try it out with his students.

“I read a lot of articles about businesses and even some classrooms moving toward the stability balls because there’s some data out there that was indicating that it helped with focus. And, it was showing that it improved posture and it kind of gave the kids an outlet for that kind of squirmy behavior,” Malloy said.

The balls were introduced into the classroom slowly. First students used them in 15- minute intervals that were increased to 30 minutes and then an hour until they were sitting on them the whole day. “A few of the kids after school were still a little sore because they just weren’t using those muscles (stomach muscles) before,” Malloy said. He was a little hesitant to introduce the balls into the classroom because he wasn’t sure about requiring one more new thing of his students. “It would be one more new thing that I didn’t want to overload the kids with,” Malloy said. “It’s a one-on-one classroom, so all the kids have a laptop computer, also. I was really waiting until there was a good time to balance out the technology component of stuff and teaching all the kids that with the new stability balls.”

He used the WittFitt Web site to learn about the benefits of using stability balls. The information provided is from Lisa Witt, a former teacher and founder of WittFitt. He also did some preliminary research in his own classroom, having experienced some problems with chairs. “I had Barb Rabold, the occupational therapist, do some observations with my class without the stability balls (just with chairs),” he said. “Then I had a whole year with this class in third grade before I moved up to fourth, so I had some background information as to which ones are a little bit more fidgety than others, and some situations where some kids were getting their hair pulled with screws or whatnot, or maybe they were falling off chairs.” This led him to believe there was a need for some new seating in the classroom. “I went to school here when I was in third grade and they’re probably the same chairs,” Malloy laughed.

After getting the details worked out Malloy had to find funds to buy the stability balls. Each ball costs about $25 plus shipping. “Obviously, the budget’s pretty well strapped,” he said. “So I had some parents (of his students) that were in the Lions Club and they thought it was a worthwhile proposal to bring to the Lions Club and see if they could help with the funding. They not only paid for the balls, but they also paid for the shipping — and that was great.” The balls aren’t just for helping with physical activity, enhancing attention and keeping hair from being pulled. “We’ve done a lot of different lessons off of it,” Malloy said. “We’ve done lessons on the alignment of the spine which goes along with our science unit. We’ve talked about where the balls come from in Italy and to Wisconsin, and that helps in our social studies. And the kids wrote thank-you notes to Lisa Witt and also to the Kodiak Lions Club which helped out our handwriting. We’ve really tried to weave it into the curriculum as much as we can here.” Malloy has seen a couple of improvements after the switch to the new seating.

“I have noticed a difference in this class with using them,” he said. “There hasn’t been the hair getting pulled from the screws of the back of the chairs, kids aren’t tilting their chairs because it’s a ball and they can’t really put their head on the desk because it wouldn’t work with the ball.” There are legs on the ball to keep them from rolling around too much, the balls slowly lose air if they are punctured instead of popping, and kids also can deflate or inflate their balls at recess to customize their comfort level. Space is an issue when students sit on the balls at their desks. “When they’re sitting on the balls it probably takes up a little more space in the aisles in the classroom,” Malloy said. He also said upkeep is another issue. “They’re obviously not going to last as long as the chairs and you just can’t replace a leg,” he said. “Once they’re popped you either have to seal it or buy a new ball.” Aside from those two issues he likes using the lighter and quieter stability balls. “This is sort of the pilot year,” Malloy said. “We’ll see how it goes this year. I know right now the kids really like it and it definitely is an incentive to have them. I’d like to keep it going indefinitely. I’d like to get enough data to justify keeping the program going.” He’s also sure the students would like to have the program continue, as well. “There’s already some talk in here about going to fifth grade with no stability ball and no laptop, so they’re worried about that,” he laughed. Mirror writer Louis Garcia can be reached via e-mail at lgarcia@kodiakdailymirror.com.

KANSAS CITY STAR, MO.  SEPT. 2005.

JENNIFER HACK/The Kansas City Star

Kyle Whalley uses an exercise ball to teach music at Liberty Middle School.
By EDWARD M. EVELD

 

The Kansas City Star As an orchestra teacher at Liberty Middle School, Kyle Whalley, 25, thinks beyond teaching music to training musicians. That’s why many of his 140 sixth- and seventh-grade students, if all goes well, will be practicing the violin, viola, cello and bass while sitting on exercise balls in class. Q. You mean like those giant balls people use for sit-ups at the gym? A. That’s right. I know it’s weird, but these balls we’ll be using are designed to create good posture. It aligns the spine, makes you an “active sitter.” So what’s the nexus between playing musical instruments and active sitting? We spend hours on the topic of good posture, sitting with your back straight, feet flat They have to train their abdomen, the core muscles. The students have to be a tripod. You create a trip with your feet and the chair. While the chair has four legs, the ball acts as just one leg. If the student’s feet are too close together, they lose their balance.

Why is posture so important? A lot of benefits: Better blood flow, for one. And it helps kids keep their attention, to stay focused. The ball doesn’t allow you to sit poorly because if you do, you’ll obviously end up on the floor. Anybody take a spill yet No, we’re still on chairs, going through a curriculum about the ball, the history of it and how it works. That will take three or four weeks, and then they will have to take an exam. The students will have to get parent permission slips before we start using the balls.Then we’ll do lots of practice, minus the instruments. Eventually, if the funds come through, ideally the kids will be on the balls every day. Have you tried this yourself? I did try it. It’s interesting how much I can feel it in my stomach. You’re just so much more aware of sitting upright. I would go one way or the other if my legs weren’t in the right spot Is anyone else using exercise balls in this way? I talked to the people who have developed this program for schools.

The balls are being used in typical classroom situations, but they said I’m the first to use it in a music classroom. And the students’ reaction to this idea? It’s funny because I had a ball sent to my room and they thought it was a toy to take outside. I didn’t tell them anything about it for a few days. When I told them that we were actually going to be sitting on them, their reaction was,”That’s crazy!”

By MELISSA WALKER
Register Staff Writer 02/27/2004

At a glance, Lisa Witt’s classroom at Park Avenue Elementary School looks like any other fifth-grade class, except for one thing – the students sit on stability balls instead of chairs. Every morning Witt’s students arrive shortly before 8 a.m. to sweep the floor and remove any debris that might puncture the balls. Then they put air in any balls that have slightly deflated overnight – all in preparation for a day of learning. Witt brought the idea to the school at 3141 S.W. Ninth St. when she joined the teaching staff in the fall. She said that sitting on the balls provides many benefits to students, including improved posture, balance, coordination, flexibility and muscle strength, along with increased blood flow to the brain. Combined, those benefits keep students more alert and focused in the classroom.
“I thought it would be fun sitting on a ball because it’s more bouncy and more comfortable than achair,” said Jara Sanders, 10, a student in Witt’s class.

Fifth-grader Skylar Soltis said he didn’t realize how many benefits sitting on a ball would have for him and his classmates.
“I just thought it was really crazy, and I was going to have a lot of fun,” he said.

The idea came from Witt’s husband, Chad. The two sit on stability balls at home to improve their posture, and Chad Witt suggested to his wife the balls could be used in the classroom to help students.

Witt, who was then teaching in Colorado, researched the benefits of students sitting on balls rather than chairs for nearly a year. She tested students’ posture, balance and flexibility while using the balls and compared them with a controlled group of students who didn’t sit on the balls. She found that because the child is sitting up straighter, more blood is flowing to the brain, which makes the child more alert. The balls also allow slight movement, so the child isn’t fidgeting as
often.

When Witt came to Park Avenue, she pitched the idea and showed her research to Principal John Johnson, and he went for it. Students had to earn the privilege of sitting on the balls.

“As a teacher, the last thing you want is something to disrupt your class,” said Witt, who taught the students about the benefits and how to properly sit on the balls.

One of the biggest obstacles to the project was cost, but Witt said families, companies and businesses donated enough money to buy 26 balls, plus gave an extra $300 for replacements. Each ball costs about $15.Witt said making her students go through all the work and not getting the balls until December
has made them respect using them and not turn the project into a disruption.

“It never was (an issue), because they had to work so hard to get them,” she said.

Witt also has a strict set of rules posted on the wall. Students who don’t behave while sitting on a stability ball lose privileges for one month. Only a few students have had that happen. Some students who were skeptical earlier now have warmed to the unconventional classroom method.

“I thought it would be weird because I’ve never seen anybody sit on a ball,” Alejandra Sandoval, 11, said. But sitting on the ball has helped improve her posture and her coordination when playing soccer.

Skylar said he had been struggling in school but has now improved his grades, in part, he said, because sitting on the ball improves the oxygen and blood flow to his brain. Other students said they also have seen improvements.

“I think it’s a good idea because most of the time my back hurts me a lot and this is helping me with me back pain,” Nick Celestino, 11, said.

Tim Evans, 10, said that since he began sitting on the ball, he has seen improvement academically and in his ability to play sports.

“It’s fun. It’s better than being in a regular chair because it straightens out your back and helps (improve) my handwriting,” Tim said.

The balls are ordered to fit the height of the student, with students being able to sit with their legs at a 90-degree angle. Other teachers at Park Avenue are exploring whether to use the balls next year.