Article sourced from Dr Hazel Wallace, The Food Medic / Post written by regular contributor Assistant Professor in Sport and Exercise Science – Bryna Chrismas

To comprehend what exercise physiology is we need to understand the words ‘exercise’ and ‘physiology’; some history will help us.

The word ‘exercise’ originates from the Latin word exercitius, which means to ‘drive forth’, and ‘physiology’ is derived from the Greek word physiologia, meaning ‘natural science’. Exercise and physical activity although often used interchangeably, are two separate concepts. Exercise is any planned or structured, repetitive movement with a specific goal of improving or maintaining fitness. Physical activity, on the other hand, can be any bodily movement that results in the use of energy such as walking up the stairs, or mowing the lawn.

The importance of exercise and its role in society is not a modern concept. as Plato (an ancient Greek philosopher) famously said…Additionally, Hippocrates (460 – 370 B.C.) noted:

What job role would a modern day exercise physiologist perform?

Exercise physiology plays an important role in several aspects of a i) sporting, ii) military, and iii) clinical occupation. For example:

  • Risk stratification for clinical and surgical operations
  • Diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation within the military
  • Prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (e.g. certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes)
  • Prevention and treatment of mental health, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Performance and recovery of athletes

i) Exercise physiology in a sporting environment:

An exercise physiologist may work as part of an interdisciplinary team to enhance sport performance, attenuate fatigue, and improve recovery in athletes. Elite sports teams, governing bodies, and high performance centres (e.g. English Institute of Sport) may employ an exercise physiologist to conduct athlete testing and monitoring. Such data (e.g. biochemical, perceptual, performance) can be provided to coaches and support team members, to understand the performance and recovery of athletes.

ii) Exercise physiology in a clinical environment:

Exercise and/or physical activity can help prevent and/or treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as certain types of cancers2, type 2 diabetes3 and cardiovascular disease4; in addition to Alzheimer’s disease5, depression6, anxiety7, and aging (see Figure 1). An exercise physiologist may develop and conduct fitness and health testing on patients as part of surgical risk assessment, and post-operative rehabilitation. In the future, I would like to see exercise physiologist working alongside general practitioners to prescribe exercise and physical activity as part of lifestyle medicine.

iii) Exercise physiology in a military environment:

Within the military and other government organisations (e.g. NASA), an exercise physiologist may be responsible for coordinating and conducting fitness assessments and programs. Additionally, they may implement laboratory protocols to assess the health of recruits and soldiers, producing technical reports and presentations.

Specific job roles for an exercise physiologist in a sports, clinical or military occupation may include:

  1. Elite sport physiologist
  2. Clinical exercise physiologist
  3. Aerospace physiologist
  4. Personal trainer
  5. Strength and conditioning coach
  6. Exercise instructor
  7. Research assistant/associate
  8. Academic

How can I become an exercise physiologist?

Firstly, I would recommend an undergraduate degree in a Sport and Exercise Science related field. There are numerous options within the UK. Secondly, obtaining as much practical experience as possible is essential. Several undergraduate degrees now offer placements or sandwich years, however, continuous work placed based experiences will be a huge benefit.

Additionally, while at university volunteering for research projects, conferences, workshops and events will provide you with the necessary foundation to obtain further certification and accreditation (this will depend on what career you are interested in, and in what country). For example, in the UK the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES;, offer student membership and supervised experience, which aims to provide the necessary skills and training for you to apply for accreditation upon graduation. BASES accreditation may be something that a future employer would require.

Article sourced from Dr Hazel Wallace, The Food Medic / Post written by regular contributor Assistant Professor in Sport and Exercise Science – Bryna Chrismas