Yoga ball = School chair?

Today’s Star Tribune printed an article out of Pennsylvania, Teachers make move to improve student focus by ditching desk chairs in favor of yoga balls. The shallow article does not include specific references and vaguely refers to nonexperimental research. Do you trust the article?

The research

I took it upon myself to find the research. Oddly enough, I have yet to find any scholarly research that supports the claims made in this news article. The research of Kilbourne (2009), who is mentioned in the article, is unscientific and purely qualitative. For example, students were asked before and after using the exercise balls to rank their perceived level of focus. A self-report measure, really? How about – at a minimum – using a math time table test score????

The ball 

A yoga ball? The stability ball – best known to Americans as a Swiss ball – has origins in physical therapy. Pilates, yoga, and other schools of exercise adopted the tool, incorporating them into workouts. I have a number of friends who are teachers – would you seriously consider replacing your chairs with stability balls on a permanent basis?

Improved focus

This is a hot research topic in my field (sport and exercise psychology). Does exercise improve cognitive processes? Cognitive performance seems to be improved by lower exercise intensities immediately after exercise, but by higher intensities after a period of physical recovery (Pesce, 2012). Further, findings support that with increasing cognitive task difficulty, performance would be worsened by a withdrawal of resources away from the task and towards motor control (Pesce, 2012). In dual-processing tasks – one task will always suffer.

Improved balance & posture

There is no scientific evidence that sitting on a stability ball will improve balance. Based on what exercise physiologists know about the human body and its ability to adapt, an individual may see minimal improvements initially and then nothing moving forward. In fact, as the human body adapts to sitting on a stability chair, posture will not be effected and may even be adversely effected.

Inappropriate generalization

This is a common error of our society – cherry picking information and applying it in ways that are not intended. For example, there is plenty of evidence to support the dose response of exercise (Everhart, 2012; Travlos, 2010). Attention levels and aptitude to learn have been shown to increase following bouts of physical activity.

The bottomline

Research supports improved learning following physical activity. The research specific to concurrent physical activity remains inconclusive. The reports in this article are unfounded and need to be critically assessed before implemented. The proposed benefits, such as improved focus, defy research findings – as well as logic.

One important aspect of school is learning social skills and socially acceptable behaviors. Allowing children to bounce all day? – maybe I am the only one that views this as a way to exacerbate attention disorders. Children need to learn to sit still, as they will need to sit still in life. While children are designed and need to move, it would be more beneficial to get out of the chair on a more consistent basis.

While there may be minimal benefits – there are also significant physiological and biomechanical risks associated with the use of stability balls as chairs.

However, sitting on a ball could reduce the prevalence of leg crossing – which may reduce hip and knee injuries – but this is me making a hypothetical claim (I did not find any research to support this).

References

Everhart, B. (2012). The influence of daily structured physical activity on academic progress of elementary students with intellectual disabilities. Education,133(2), 298-312.

Kilbourne, J. (2009). Sharpening the Mind Through Movement: Using Exercise Balls as Chairs in a University Class. Chronicle Of Kinesiology & Physical Education In Higher Education20(1), 10-15.

Pesce, C. (2012). Shifting the Focus From Quantitative to Qualitative Exercise Characteristics in Exercise and Cognition Research. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology34(6), 766-786.

Travlos, A. K. (2010). High intensity physical education classes and cognitive performance in eighth-grade students: An applied study. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology8(3), 302-311.

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