Exercise physiology is the scientific study of how physical activity affects the body. There are two types of exercise physiology: sport and clinical. Sport exercise physiology applies exercise knowledge to develop fitness conditioning routines for athletes, while clinical exercise physiology uses exercise as a form of treatment and prevention of chronic disease, as well as for therapeutic purposes.
Professional clinical exercise physiologists generally work in hospitals, sports medicine clinics, and physical therapy centers. They meet with patients and customize exercise regimes that will be the most beneficial to their health issues. For instance, someone with heart disease may be prescribed a cardiovascular routine, such as jogging or walking, to increase heart strength.
Diabetes centers may use clinical exercise physiology to help patients in managing the disease. Diabetics can suffer from low insulin, hormones that convert sugar from food into energy, which can result in high levels of glucose in the blood. Exercise therapy can be used to keep blood glucose levels down naturally because exercise burns glucose. Physical activity is also prescribed to diabetics under physiologist supervision to prevent diabetes from worsening in overweight individuals.
Exercise is also used in healthcare facilities to treat orthopedic diseases, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, that inhibit movement in elderly individuals. Since exercise can be difficult for those with joint pain, exercise physiologists educate patients on how to safely work out to gain health benefits without injuring themselves. Exercise physiologists will often recommend swimming to minimize impact on joints while still providing the benefits of physical activity.
Clinical exercise physiology can also be applied as a form of therapy for the psychological aspects, such as anxiety or depression, that may come with a disease. Exercise can increase levels of serotonin in the body, which can help relieve stress of those suffering from chronic diseases. Decreased stress levels may make patients mentally feel better, and in turn, can improve their health.
The ability to motivate patients is an important aspect of clinical exercise physiology. Physiologists work with people who are ill and possibly in pain. Exercise therapy requires a careful balance of the scientific knowledge of how to best improve the conditions of patients, along with the motivational skills needed to encourage them to continue when therapy becomes difficult. For example, a clinical exercise physiologist may meet with a group of hospital patients with various diseases and prescribe exercise routines specific to the conditions. He or she then supervises the routines to make sure no one overexerts themselves and makes their conditions worse, as well as keeping them motivated to overcome their ailments.