Six things you may not know about accredited exercise physiologists

Dr Tina Skinner from UQ’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences shares her top six things that most high-school students may not know about accredited exercise physiologists (AEPs).

1. AEPs use exercise as medicine

Like a doctor subscribes medication to treat a specific condition; accredited exercise physiologists prescribe exercise and lifestyle programs to help treat or prevent specific health conditions or injuries.
AEPs provide support for clients with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, poor mental health, cancer, arthritis and pulmonary disease, just to name a few.
They ultimately use clinical exercise interventions as a form of medicine; specialising in exercise prescription and programming for individuals or groups who may be at risk of developing, or have existing, medical conditions and injuries. These interventions are exercise-based and include health and physical activity education, advice, support and lifestyle modification with a strong focus on achieving long-term behavioural change.


2. They work with clients of all ages and conditions

From healthy to the chronically ill, community groups to families or individuals - anyone wanting to improve any aspect of their body, health or happiness, could benefit from seeing an AEP.
AEPs can help make people fitter, stronger, injury resilient, reverse chronic disease (from depression to diabetes) and rehabilitate bodies (including everything from toe injuries, hip replacements or heart attacks). They can also assist to reduce pain, improve posture, improve flexibility and even to lose or gain weight (including muscle sculpting and maintenance of health during pregnancy).
Working across such a wide range of body treatment and specialisations accredited exercise physiologist find themselves working with clients from many different backgrounds, ages and with many varying conditions.


3. Qualifications are important

AEPs are allied-health professionals with Medicare provider numbers and are university trained members of the health and medical sector. AEPs can sometimes be confused with personal trainers; however, this is far from the truth. One of the key differences between the professions is that fitness professionals (e.g. personal trainers) are members of the sport and recreation sector.
To become an AEP in Australia, you need to complete a four year university degree in clinical exercise physiology and satisfy the criteria set down by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), including 500 hours of clinical experience. Once you have graduated and met the ESSA requirements you can then apply for your accreditation. To maintain accreditation, AEPs need to participate in ongoing professional development and stay abreast of recent research. 


4. AEPs can specialise in different areas

Just like physiotherapists or doctors, an AEP must display a diverse range of knowledge and skills in all areas of clinical exercise physiology, however, they will generally choose one or two specialty areas on which to base their career. Some of these specialties include:
  • ​​​​Cardiac/cardiopulmonary rehabilitation - working with people with chronic heart failure
  • Neurological/neuromuscular rehabilitation - working with people who have a spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy
  • Metabolic - working with people who may be at risk of developing or have been diagnosed with diabetes or obesity
  • Musculoskeletal rehabilitation - strengthening after acute sports injuries or for injury prevention
  • Research - making new discoveries in the industry. UQ’s Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology (Honours) is the only university in Australia to offer an Honours qualification.

5. AEPs are recognised allied health professionals

AEPs are recognised allied health professionals who contribute to multi-professional healthcare. They are eligible to register with Medicare Australia, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and WorkCover, and have recognition among a number of health insurers for exercise physiology services. They often work in collaboration with other health professionals such as general practitioners and physiotherapists.

AEPs work as part of an inter-disciplinary team, assisting patients with clinical health conditions to achieve their health goals. Working in collaboration with other allied health practitioners, AEPs develop exercise programs based on the patient’s current medical status and/or musculoskeletal condition. They will also ensure the program is both safe and effective to achieve the health goals. This may include a supervised one-on-one or group exercise program. In addition, AEPs work to ensure that patients have the necessary knowledge and skills to exercise safely and to support them while they commence their exercise program.

6. AEPs are crucial for the future of our health system

Particularly in the past five years, doctors globally have emphasised the importance of exercise and weight management in order to prevent increasingly common chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, osteoporosis, cancers and others.   With a health system that is currently in crisis (in terms of both costs and resources), AEPs will be at the forefront of healthcare in the coming decades.  My take home message: it won’t be long before GPs are prescribing 60 minutes of physical activity a day and five visits to an AEP instead of medication and a handful of tests.


To find out more about the Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology (Honours) at UQ check out the study page.


Last updated:
6 October 2016