Exercise Balls: Low Impact, High Yield

There’s something appealing about being able to sit down to exercise.  As the owner of two unused exercise balls, I realized that I could try some of the bounce exercises mentioned by Dr. Jonas (in a comment on a previous post) without an expensive trip to the store.  He’s blogged a bit about the exercises he’s been doing, and I’ve been intrigued.

First, since my exercise balls are two different sizes, I wondered if the size matters.  Yes, it does.  I checked a number of websites and all agreed that the size of the ball mattered; they even provided handy little tables where people can check their height and guess what size ball they might need.  There’s incongruity in giving height in standard units but ball size in metric units, yet that seems to be the norm.  Compiling data from many sources, here are the recommendations that all seem to agree on:

Sizing Exercise Balls

If you don’t happen to be a height that appears in the above chart, there is disagreement on what size ball might be right for you.  Much disagreement:


Since my height doesn’t appear in the upper (green) chart, I go with the bold column of the lower (blue) chart, since those numbers are from a physical therapist.  One would hope that PTs are making recommendations based on what’s best for a person’s health.  The other numbers are from companies trying to sell balls — probably not the best source of reliable health information.

HOWEVER, those numbers are just a recommended starting point.  Some people have long legs for their height, and others have short legs for their height.  People of equal heights weigh different amounts, thus will compress their exercise balls different amounts.  A variety of factors come into play when finding the right fit for an exercise ball.

The best test in finding the right size ball is to fully inflate the ball and sit on it.  Everyone agrees that thighs should be approximately parallel to the floor, and hips should be at or above the knee height.  Those who have a financial stake in getting you to buy a ball say not to worry too much about the size – just don’t inflate it all the way if the ball is too big.  The PT is most emphatic that people need to fully inflate an exercise ball to get maximum benefit from the exercises.

Once you have a ball, start bouncing.  It’s easy.  It’s fun!

Bouncing on an exercise ball is low impact – important for people with RA. There’s no rough pounding of knees, hips, and ankles (although my spine starts to feel it after a while).  Ski machines, elliptical trainers, and swimming are other low-impact ways to exercise, but a bounce ball is significantly less expensive and takes less space to store (I can deflate mine and store it in my sock drawer if space is an issue).

Initially I wasn’t sure how much exercise it would be to have fun bouncing on a ball like a little kid.  Then I remembered the hoppity-hop!  Oh, yes, bouncing on a ball counts as exercise.

Even better, these balls can be used for other exercises, too.  There’s a reason that physical therapy offices have an assortment of sizes to fit every patient who walks through the door.

Some exercise balls come with a chart illustrating possible exercises.  There are many websites & youtube videos with exercises.  Some are better than others. The only ones I’ve liked so far:

Whether you use an exercise ball or not, it’s important to do stretches and low-impact exercises to build/maintain muscle strength so that joints work as smoothly as possible.  I’ll check into some more resources, and see if I can find a good, RA-friendly routine.


Exercise balls are also called a Swiss ball, Swedish ball, bounce ball, core ball, body ball, physioball, therapy ball, stability ball, fitness ball, pilates ball, yoga ball…


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