The Role of Exercise Physiology in Helping to Manage Medical Conditions

A recent article of ours, ‘What’s the Difference Between Physiotherapy and Exercise Physiology’ has skyrocketed into our top 10 most viewed pages on our website. Being a relatively new profession when compared to its counterpart, Physiotherapy, there is still confusion that surrounds Exercise Physiology. So, it’s not uncommon for there to be hesitancy when it comes to why, and when, someone should see an Exercise Physiologist. 

If you’re living with a chronic condition, illness, injury, going through injury rehab or just want some advice on exercise for your specific needs, then an Exercise Physiologist can help you. They’re capable of working with a wide variety of populations. We can often break down their work into two groups, musculoskeletal and medical. In this article we’re going to dive deeper into the role of Exercise Physiology in helping to manage medical conditions and diseases.

What do Exercise Physiologists do?

Exercise Physiologists are accredited specialists that design and prescribe evidence-based programs. Their primary focus is on preventing and managing acute and subacute injuries, and chronic diseases and conditions to help restore optimal physical function, health and wellness. As well as providing exercise programs, they also give health and physical activity education advice to support positive and beneficial lifestyle modifications. 

Exercise Physiologists can work in the following areas: 

  • Public and private hospital settings
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary health care
  • Within private and multidisciplinary clinics
  • Population health 
  • Workplace health and rehabilitation 
  • Residential aged care facilities and retirement facilities 
  • Sports settings

Who Do They Work With?

AEP’s are capable of working with a wide variety of populations and conditions. Here are examples of who they work with; those with:

  • Cardiopulmonary conditions 
    • Hypertension
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Peripheral vascular disease 
    • Myocardial infarction / heart attack 
    • Chronic heart failure
    • Asthma
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Cystic fibrosis
  • Metabolic conditions
    • Obesity
    • Dyslipidaemias 
    • Impaired glucose tolerances 
    • Diabetes mellitus
  • Musculoskeletal conditions and injuries
    • Arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid
    • Osteoporosis
    • Sub-acute and chronic specific and non-specific musculoskeletal pain and injuries  
  • Neurological / Neuromuscular conditions
    • Stroke
    • Spinal cord injury 
    • Acquired brain injury 
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy
  • Other – including cancers, mental illness and conditions associated with ageing

Let’s take a look at how Exercise Physiology can benefit those suffering from a medical condition.

Exercise Physiology for Cancer Patients

Cancer and its treatment can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. It can cause health issues that compromise physical and mental well-being. Now more than ever, there is a push to prescribe exercise as part of cancer treatment and rehabilitation. Research has shown that cancer patients who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe side effects. It can help patients tolerate aggressive treatments, minimise the physical declines caused by their cancer, counteract cancer-related fatigue, relieve mental distress and improve overall quality of life. 

Exercise programs designed by AEP’s are prescribed in a similar way that doctors prescribe medications. They’re created based on a number of factors, including the patient’s disease and how their physical and mental health has responded after treatment. Research recommends people be as physically active as their ability allows them to be. Many cancer patients want to include exercise into their treatment plan but are unsure where to start or who to see – this is where seeing an Exercise Physiologist is most beneficial.

Exercise Physiology for People Living with Schizophrenia

Living with Schizophrenia increases the chances of developing other health conditions. A study of 1,800 Australians living with schizophrenia found that three quarters were either overweight or obsese; and more than half had metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that raises your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. 

The increased risk of developing other health conditions is due to the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, such as:  

  • Possible side effects of antipsychotic medications – can cause weight gain
  • Difficulty staying motivated and engaged in exercising and eating healthy 
  • Cognitive ability increases the difficulty of being able to be organised and plan ahead
    • As an example, cooking a healthy meal requires planning of a recipe and budgeted time and money to go grocery shopping

The life expectancy of someone living with schizophrenia tends to be 10-20 years less than the average person. Although, many cases succumb to the effects of preventable conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Consistent exercise has been proven to enhance physical and psychological wellbeing of those with schizophrenia and reduces both positive and negative symptoms of the disorder. 

Exercise Physiology for Stroke Victims

Suffering a stroke can cause debilitating symptoms that can last for hours, day, months or even years, such as:

  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg on either side of the body, and sometimes both 
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others
  • Loss of vision
  • Blurring or reduced vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing or eating 
  • Loss of balance 
  • Fatigue 
  • Reduced cardiovascular fitness 
  • Difficulty thinking and remembering 

Low levels of exercise and physical activity are reported in recovering stroke victims. However, regular participation can help reduce the risk of a stroke occuring again and improve symptoms post-stroke. Exercise Physiologists work closely with stroke sufferers to help improve physical capability, including working on: 

  • Strength, endurance and fitness
  • Balance and coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to complete day-to-day activities
  • Decreasing number of falls and improving confidence
  • Improving the ability to return to leisure activities

The type and amount of physical activity that is best, varies on an individual basis. An Exercise Physiologist will design a program that takes into account the severity of the symptoms, exercise preference, capability and other medical conditions like heart problems or diabetes. It’s common for fatigue to be a barrier to exercise for stroke recoverers. However, exercise has been proven to have a counter effect. Therefore anyone recovering from a stroke should try to find ways to exercise or participate in physical activity regularly.

Exercise Physiology for Chronic Heart Failure (CHF)

A serious, and sometimes life threatening condition, Chronic Heart Failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood through the body. A range of medical and lifestyle modifications can help improve symptoms, quality of life, slow the progression of the disease and ultimately prolong life. Exercise is a vital piece to the management of CHF. An Exercise Physiologist will design a program that allows someone with CHF to exercise safely and comfortably, overall improving their clinical and functional status. Participating in regular exercise also has additional benefits, such as: 

  • Improved aerobic fitness
  • Improved muscle strength and endurance
  • Increased ability to complete day-to-day activities – maintaining independence
  • Improving quality of life – reducing depression and anxiety symptoms 
  • Helps to slow the rate at which the disease progresses

Exercise is Medicine

Exercise prescription is becoming increasingly popular for a range of different medical conditions. In the healthcare industry, exercise is seen as a type of ‘medicine’, with studies proving the positive effects it can have on medical conditions and diseases. Our Exercise Physiologists are qualified to prescribe exercise programs for people living with medical conditions. Speak to our team today by calling 07 3891 2000, or book in to see one of our AEP’s today!

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