Will the calories burned sitting on an exercise ball be enough to single-handedly transform your body? Probably not. But if you prefer sitting on an exercise ball to sitting on a regular desk chair, you might burn at least a few extra calories per day.
Calories Burned Sitting on an Exercise Ball
There is no official "calories burned calculator" for sitting on a stability ball — but there have been a few studies to estimate how calories burned sitting on an exercise ball compare to sitting on a chair.
According to an older but particularly noteworthy study of 24 subjects that was published in the June 2008 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology, sitting on an exercise ball burned about 4.1 calories per hour more than sitting in an office chair. The subjects burned about the same number of calories while working at a standing desk, but reported that they liked sitting on an exercise ball more than they liked standing.
However, an analysis of multiple studies on this subject, published in the June 2014 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, declared that working while sitting on an exercise ball burns about the same number of calories as more traditional seating arrangements.
The authors of that analysis recommended treadmill desks and pedal desks as having the best potential for burning more calories as you work — a whopping 2 to 4 calories per minute, as compared to their figure of 1.2 calories per minute for working on an exercise ball or conventional seating.
Why the difference in figures? It might come down to how much you fidget — or don't — during the different sitting arrangements. It might also be that the difference from the first study — 4.1 calories per hour — was just too small to note when considered in calories per minute, which is how the results were expressed in the second study. A difference of 4.1 calories per hour works out to less than 0.07 calories per minute.
Read more: Muscles Affected by Sitting All Day
Another study, published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Sport and Health Science, monitored 11 subjects and found that sitting on an exercise ball burned slightly higher than 10 percent more calories than sitting on a more typical flat, firm surface — possibly due to greater muscle activation in the lower legs.
Despite the conflicting data, it's obviously possible for sitting on an exercise ball to burn more calories than sitting on a stable surface. But even taking the most impressive number from the first study, sitting on an exercise ball for a full year of 40-hour workweeks would only add up to an extra 1,700 calories — roughly equivalent to half a pound of body fat.
Are There Other Benefits?
Exercise balls are a fantastic aid for adding variety and whole-body integration into your core workouts, notes the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Does that transfer to using the ball as an office chair?
Not necessarily. In a systematic review published in the July 2013 issue of Applied Ergonomics, researchers noted that the majority of studies on trunk muscle activation during dynamic sitting — i.e., sitting on an unstable surface like an exercise ball — showed no difference when compared to conventional seating arrangements.
So, "core training while working" doesn't seem like a true benefit of exercise ball sitting. However, if you take short breaks during your workday, that "chair" suddenly turns into a great tool for stretching or doing creative strength-training exercises.
And those quick, active work breaks can add up a lot faster than fidgeting while you sit. Harvard Health Publishing estimates that a 185-pound person will burn about 133 calories in 30 minutes of general strength training. If you spread that strength training out throughout your workday, and do it just three times a week, that adds up to more than 20,000 extra calories burned in a year — the equivalent of almost 6 pounds of body fat burned.
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: "Increasing Passive Energy Expenditure During Clerical Work"
- Applied Ergonomics: "The Effect of Dynamic Sitting on Trunk Muscle Activation"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Changing the Way We Work: Elevating Energy Expenditure With Workstation Alternatives"
- Journal of Sport and Health Science: "Energy Expenditure and Muscular Activation Patterns Through Active Sitting on Compliant Surfaces"
- American Council on Exercise: "Core-Strengthening Stability Ball Workout"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"