How I discovered clinical exercise physiology was right for me

This week is Exercise Right Week (22 – 28 May) – an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the experts of exercise, and learn how to choose the right exercise expert for your individual needs.

Accredited exercise physiologists (or AEP's) are one such group of exercise experts who specialise in using exercise as medicine for people with chronic or complex health conditions. During high school I had never even heard of an exercise physiologist (aka clinical exercise physiology). When I tell people now that I am studying to be one I am usually met with a confused look, followed by - “So what does an accredited exercise physiologist actually do?” It quickly became clear to me that many people are unsure what clinical exercise physiology is, and what it is an accredited exercise physiologist does.

In this post I want to share with you how I came to study clinical exercise physiology and what I love about this profession. Hopefully along the way I will also clear up some misconceptions about the role of an accredited exercise physiologist.

How I came to study clinical exercise physiology

In all honesty, I didn’t choose to study clinical exercise physiology, it chose me. I had spent the last five years of high school dreaming about studying physiotherapy. Needless to say, when I didn’t get in I was devastated and quickly began to explore pathways which could help me reach my physio goal.

In high school I always had an interest in the human body and how it worked. I also loved sport and staying physically active. Studying clinical exercise physiology would enable me to combine both these things so it seemed like the perfect option.

Throughout my first year I worked hard to improve my GPA so I could apply again for physio the following year. During that year I learnt more about what a clinical exercise physiologist actually does. I then came to realise that this was the degree I was meant to be in all along! Now, four years later, I am only a few months off completing my Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology (Honours) degree.

What I love about clinical exercise physiology

I love the idea of using exercise to help people lead a more happy and fulfilling life. I also see myself as very much a ‘people-person’ and studying a degree that is focussed around helping others, and interacting with a variety of people every day, really appealed to me when it was time to choose what I wanted to do with my life.

An accredited exercise physiologist can help someone who has suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury move from their wheelchair to their bed independently. Help an elite athlete overcome an injury that is stopping them from competing in high level competitions. Or help someone who is recovering from cancer to get back into physical activity.

Ask any two accredited exercise physiologists what they do for a day’s work and you will get two different answers. Some exercise physiologists choose to work with elite athletes and assist rehabilitation for sporting injuries, while others go the opposite direction and work in hospital rehabilitation.

The areas accredited exercise physiologists can work are very diverse. Some of the most common specialisations include:

  • Cardiac/cardiopulmonary rehabilitation
  • Neurological/neuromuscular rehabilitation
  • Metabolic (diabetes/obesity)
  • Musculoskeletal rehabilitation
  • Mental health
  • Oncology

My personal goal is to specialise in cardiac rehabilitation. The heart has always intrigued me as I am fascinated by the fact that one single organ is responsible for so much. I want to be able to share this passion with patients and teach them how to keep this vital organ in optimal health so they can live the life that they want.

One of the most common reasons someone may develop cardiac disease is physical inactivity and poor health choices. As an exercise physiologist specialising in cardiac rehab, I would have the ability to implement lifestyle changes for these people to stop the disease getting any worse. I would help people who have been bed-ridden from open heart surgery to walk on their own again and maybe even start participating in their favourite pastime like dancing or swimming. Ultimately, my job would be to improve someone’s quality of life and strengthen their heart, not many other professions can do that.

Cardiac rehabilitation has the potential to change your heart’s future. It is a program designed to help improve cardiovascular health after experiencing a heart attack or heart surgery. This particular rehabilitation process follows you right from the very start from when you are admitted into hospital and can carry on for the rest of your life. The two major parts that make up cardiac rehab are exercise training and lifestyle education. Patients learn exercises to help them strengthen the entire cardiovascular system and receive expert advice about heart-healthy living to decrease the chance of experiencing another cardiac event.

I am lucky enough to be undertaking a cardiac rehabilitation practical over July/August up in Townsville. I will be placed at the cardiac clinic that is run by James Cook University.

Last updated:
28 June 2022