The role of an exercise physiologist is often misunderstood – in this article Riley Gould attempts to addresses some of the most common questions.
The title ‘Exercise Physiologist’ is a rarely heard term outside the allied health and fitness industry. After discussions with many people outside of the industry, I have found it is often presumed that this occupation specialises in research involving exercise and wellbeing, rather than their actual scope of practice. Although Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP) aren’t usually directly involved in research, their primary role is to apply the evidence provided by this research in prescribing exercise to promote health and wellbeing.
Now you may think, ‘well can’t anyone just jump on google and prescribe this themselves’, however this attitude would be like using ‘doctor google’ to diagnose the cause of your own headache symptoms. Unlike your average exercise trainer, to gain accreditation, an exercise physiologist has completed their relevant degree and undergone numerous hours of practical placement (internship). This blog will explore the role of an AEP, their role within the health and wellbeing industry, and provide advice on whether you would benefit seeing and exercise physiologist instead of a general exercise trainer.
What exactly is an Exercise Physiologist?
Although touched on above, and AEP can be summarised into a more specific role. AEP’s specialise in clinical exercise interventions for persons at high-risk of developing, or with existing chronic and complex medical conditions and injuries. These interventions are provided by exercise delivery including health and wellbeing education, resistance and cardiovascular training, and lifestyle modification and advise to help support behavioural change.
This does not mean that an AEP will not work with general populations to improve their personal health outcomes, however this is up to the individual professional to decide if they would like to specialise in a particular field/area.
AEP’s are recognised allied health professionals and are specialists within their field, and display a diverse range of knowledge across the exercise and health field. The primary aim of an AEP’s intervention is to prevent or manage chronic disease or injury and assist in restoring one’s optimal physical function, health and wellbeing.
What training does an Accredited Exercise Physiologist have?
Specifically, to gain accreditation with ESSA (Exercise and Sport Science Australia), and AEP must complete a minimum of and undergraduate degree in exercise physiology along with 500 hours of practical placement with metabolic and cardiorespiratory conditions, musculoskeletal conditions, healthy populations, with some also completing alternative experience in neurological conditions. Additionally, some AEP’s may have continued on to complete a Master Degree within their field.
How can an AEP treat so many different conditions?
This can be a tough topic for AEP’s themselves, as there are so many different acute and chronic conditions which can benefit from exercise, however require many different approaches and limitations within interventions. This is where you may find a AEP specialising in a particular area of exercise prescription or condition, for example musculoskeletal injuries. My personal recommendation is to perform your own research on the exercise physiologist themselves to see what conditions they specifically specialise in. Most organisations will have ‘team’ lists with small blurbs or descriptions of which conditions their AEP’s specialise in. This will help you in finding the right allied health professional for you, rather than getting the run around.
Should you see an AEP?
If you suffer from any chronic conditions and are wanting to seek an alternative management therapy to medication alone, than the services of an AEP may be for you.
Areas which can be addressed include;
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Multiple forms of cancer (along with conventional treatment)
- Depression and mental health conditions
- Arthritis and osteoporosis
- Chronic respiratory disease and asthma
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Neuromuscular conditions
Now an AEP intervention alone usually won’t be the optimal treatment for these high-risk conditions, however should be used in conjunction with conventional treatments provided by your general practitioner or doctor. A good AEP will work with, not against, other allied health professionals to provided the best possible outcome for an individual.
Can I see an AEP if I don’t have a chronic condition?
In short, yes. AEP’s are also well equipped to prescribe exercise interventions to the general population. Some, like myself, specialise in return-to-sport interventions to assist with athletes and general population to return from injury into their chosen level of sport, whether it be professional or recreational.
My recommendation for general population is to find an exercise professional with adequate background and training (exercise science degree), and perform your own research on your trainer. Find out who they have worked with in the past and the outcome of their clients, which is usually found on their website in the form of testimonials. Secondly, find a professional who can build rapport with you. Not every professional will be your fit and most interventions are only successful if adhered too, however if you aren’t enjoying the consults then the risk of relapse will be high.
Can I claim private health or Medicare with an AEP?
When seeking the services of an AEP, you may qualify to claim private health or Medicare rebates. Upon appropriate referral by your general practitioner you can generally claim your Medicare rebate onsite, usually with a gap payment. This is similar for private health rebates, depending if you qualify for exercise physiology services.
We have a talented team of Exercise Physiologists who have experience with patients of all ages who require ongoing management of chronic conditions and also run return to sport/work programs for patients who wish to participate in physical activity with a low risk of re-injury.