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5 Myths about Exercise Physiologists

Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP’s) are university-qualified allied health professionals who design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective physical interventions for people with acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions, injuries or disabilities. AEP’s work across a vast spectrum of conditions in both public and private sectors, including neurological and disability sectors. AEPs can help people living with a disability to live healthier lifestyles, gain independence and participate in work, sport, leisure or engage in the community.

Funding for exercise physiology for NDIS can come from one of two budget areas in an NDIS plan:

  • Capacity building – Improved Daily Living
  • Capacity building – Improved Health and Wellbeing

Exercise Physiologists are funded in nearly all allied health funding streams.

5 myths about exercise physiology

Don’t worry, it is common to ask or think the question, “what can exercise physiologists do, and how can they help?” This lack of information in understanding what an exercise physiologist can do, falls with the exercise physiologist themselves needing to promote more about the profession. I am hoping to break down a few common myths about the profession and help guide you to understanding more about how exercise physiologists play an integral role like all allied health professionals in the multi-disciplinary team approach.   

1. “Exercise Physiologists only work in gyms”: 

This is a common thought that not just health professionals but also the public have when it comes to thinking about what an exercise physiologist is. Although the gym is a location exercise physiologists work in, there are multiple areas you will find AEP’s. These settings include:

  • Private and multidisciplinary rehabilitation clinics
  • Public and private hospitals settings 
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary health care (GP and specialist clinics to public health sector)
  • Workplace health and rehabilitation 
  • Ageing and aged care facilities 
  • Education departments including schools 
  • Local and professional sporting settings 

2. “I have a physiotherapist, I don’t need an exercise physiologist”:

Although having a single profession can assist with achieving goals, it is highly recommended, if possible, to have both exercise physiology and physiotherapy as part of your team to achieve the desired goals. Both professionals have their area of expertise, and it is highly important that the professionals are communicating as part of a multidisciplinary approach. Personally, I need to work alongside a physiotherapist to help enhance the outcomes for the participants. A quick guide of how each profession can assist is exercise physiologists treat participants using and programs as their primary modality. In contrast, physiotherapists assess, diagnose, treat and manage injuries, impairments, disabilities and pain with both hands-on treatment and exercise prescription.

Physiotherapists work across all phases of rehabilitation or injury. If you have a neurological injury a physiotherapist is most beneficial and effective in early intervention and addressing impairments. Physiotherapists will assess, diagnose and develop a program for you to commence your recovery and rehabilitation.

Exercise Physiologists work mainly with participants who are in the mid to late stages of their injury cycle or at a high level of function for those diagnosed with a neurological condition. They help to prepare participants for a return to the activities and exercises that they love as safely as possible. This can include activities of daily living, walking, running, sporting or leisure activities enjoyed previously. 

3. “Exercise physiologist only do exercise”: 

Exercise physiologists are professionals at prescribing and utilising exercise and physical activities to achieve goals, but this is not all they can assist with. Exercise physiologists are also trained in: 

  • Screening and assessing physiological functions in the human body with a variety of conditions. This may include the autonomic function following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) 
  • Early intervention education and planning such as newly diagnosed participants (e.g. Parkinson’s disease or brain injury) 
  • Behaviour change, coaching and motivational interventions to support participants to make positive health and well-being choices to manage their conditions long term
  • Health education, advice and support for people living with complex health conditions, including pre and post-surgical interventions
  • Academic and research 
  • Public health interventions and research 
  • Policy development
  • Connecting participants to their community such as clubs, gyms, pools or outdoor activities  

Exercise physiologists don't only prescribe weights - they ensure individual needs for exercise are taken into account

4. “Exercise Physiologists work in silo”:

You will find exercise physiologists working within large multidisciplinary teams across multiple clinical sectorsas mention

ed above. In fact, there is substantial evidence to positively support having an exercise physiologist within the MDT across neurological rehabilitation. This is highly beneficial for both the clinical team and participant. In general, having a MDT approach to participants care is of high recommendations across multiple guidelines.  

5. “Exercise physiologists will make me walk on a treadmill or do weights”:

This is false. In fact, exercise physiologists are highly trained in ensuring the individuals needs and motivations are taken into account when it comes to undertaking exercise or physical activity. This can include the environment you wish to physically move such as home, your local community, school, work or place of leisure. They look at the various pieces of equipment and assistive technology you want to use, such as specialised equipment specific for your needs forwalking, standing, or exercising or even utilising no equipment or items around the hom

e. Exercise physiologists also utilise assistive technology to re-integrate or commence activities you enjoy, such as riding a bike, water activities, or even working with an orthotist and prosthetist to find the right solution for you following injury or amputation. 

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