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…


Exercise Resolution

With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend arms straight out from sides & hold.  Soon you’ll find you can hold this for a bit longer.  Try to reach a full minute.  Then move up to 10-lb bags, then 50-lb bags & eventually get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand & hold your arms straight for more than a minute.  (I’m at this level)  Once you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.


It’s that time of year when people make New Years resolutions, and variations on exercise/get in shape/be healthier are common.  Despite my wish to be in good shape, wishing won’t make it happen.  I need concrete goals (I’ve previously written about goals here):

My resolution/goals are:

  1. Develop and follow an exercise routine
  2. Write weekly menus for my family and prepare those well-balanced, nutritious meals
  3. Carefully keep track of everything I eat

I’ve already been working on the first one.  My family joined the YMCA, and part of the membership fee included an appointment with a personal trainer to customize an exercise program.  This was a huge waste of time.  Fortunately, I also saw a new physical therapist.  The contrast was remarkable.  My physical therapist has been working with me to find stretches and exercises that start with where I am now and will protect my joints while getting me into good physical condition.  I’m already seeing progress.

I also bought a home gym.  Do not pay full price if you decide to do this.  Craigslist is a great place to find exercise equipment.  Things tend to be more expensive when everyone is making New Years resolutions, but many people give up on their resolutions after eating tons of Valentines chocolate, and prices go back down.  Here’s what I got:

The reason I chose this model is that it includes a rowing machine, which is fantastic low-impact cardio.  I still have my elliptical, so now I have two cardio options.

One entire PT session was spent going through the exercise book that came with my home gym, with the physical therapist marking which exercises I should do and which ones should be avoided.  It was pretty interesting to see the therapist’s eyes grow big as saucers as she exclaimed, time and again, “Oh, my!  Don’t do this!  It would be terrible for your ____.”

I love having my exercise routine designed by someone who knows what she’s talking about.  Now I just have to put it into practice.

Any resolutions you wish to share?

The Prevention Protocol

I am utterly sick of the myth that living a “healthy lifestyle” will prevent illness.

  • Granted, eating a balanced diet of nutritious food is better than grazing on ice cream and bon-bons all day.
  • Getting regular exercise has distinct health benefits; moving as little as possible has a detrimental impact on people’s health.
  • Is there anyone who isn’t aware of the health ramifications of smoking?
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is another no-no.

The story goes that if you exercise, eat right, refrain from smoking, and drink moderately, you’ll be healthy.  That’s a lie.

Those claims need modifiers.  Living a healthy lifestyle can lessen one’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some of the other chronic diseases, but there are no guarantees.

The prevention protocol only goes so far.  Ancestry is also a factor.  Luck plays a significant part, too.

Autoimmune diseases really don’t care how you’ve lived your life.  If you eat right, refrain from smoking/drinking, and exercise, you can still have crummy genes and lousy luck.

When I was a kid, my mom was careful about planning nutritious meals.  My dad worked too hard and grabbed fast-food for his meals, and his waistline showed it.  My mom was determined that her children not suffer the same fate.  She planned menus and we kids learned how to do it, too.  We learned how to cook so we’d always be able to eat healthily.  I still try to plan good meals.

Exercise?  I was an active kid.  Everyone ran around outside and played.  When I was old enough, I played softball and soccer in the youth leagues, and took swimming and gymnastics lessons.  This was back when schools still had recess and PE classes.  In junior high I continued to play soccer during the summer, then during the school year I played volleyball, basketball, and ran track.  And still we had PE classes.  Junior high PE was interesting; due to a scheduling mix-up, I and one other girl were assigned to the boy’s class.  While the rest of the girls were in the gym doing jumping-jacks, we were outside in the rain playing real sports.  After PE, when most people went to math or history, I got to change into dry workout clothes for my gymnastics class.  There was no question that I got plenty of exercise.  In high school, I had to drop volleyball since it was the same time as soccer, but that doesn’t mean I exercised less.  The basketball coach made a point of tracking me down and asking me to turn out for the team.  I continued to run track for the first two years of hs.  My junior year I started dating a body-builder, so we’d go to the local gym and I learned to work out with weights.  In college, I was glad for that time in the gym.  It gave me a chance to continue exercising even when my organized sports dropped to just summer adult-league soccer.  I started swimming more.

Once in the workforce, I wasn’t nearly as active, but managed to make it to the gym four or five times a week (and I was dirt-poor, so had to walk everywhere).  Exercising came to a grinding halt when I was put on bed-rest with my first pregnancy, and I never quite resumed the same intensity.  I maintain, however, that if gardening and other yard work can be considered exercise, then chasing toddlers definitely counts.

It drives me crazy when people act as if having a chronic disease is my fault.  I exercised.  I ate well.  I didn’t smoke.  Yet here I am.

Thank you for reading.
I’m expecting house guests, and will be off-line all weekend.