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What is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist?

Clinical exercise physiologists (CEPs) are trained to work with patients with chronic illnesses where exercise has been shown to be of therapeutic benefit. They perform exercise assessments, and then design, deliver and supervise exercise and lifestyle programmes for the prevention, management and rehabilitation of chronic conditions and diseases.

Clinical Exercise Physiology is a fairly new allied health care profession in New Zealand, however the profession is well established in Australia, the US, Canada and England.

The most common health conditions CEPs work with are:

- Diabetes

- Cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease & stroke)

- Respiratory conditions (such as Asthma & COPD)

- Cancer

- Anxiety & depression

- Kidney disease

- Chronic fatigue

- Chronic pain & Arthritis

- Neurological conditions

They also work with people who would like to take a proactive and preventative approach to their health. For example they can help with preventing health conditions that you have been told you are at risk of developing, or that you have a family history of (like heart disease and diabetes). Or anyone who would like to live in the best health possible.

Clinical exercise physiology is a certified healthcare profession in New Zealand. To become registered as a clinical exercise physiologist, you need to complete 4-6 years of training. The requirements are a bachelors degree in exercise science (or equivalent), followed by a Post-graduate diploma or Masters degree specialising in clinical exercise physiology, where students are required to complete at least 540 hours of practical experience.

What's the difference between Clinical Exercise Physiologists and Personal Trainers or Physiotherapists?

Physiotherapists usually treat and rehabilitate acute and chronic pain, injuries and disabilities. They use exercise along with massage, ultrasound, dry needling, and manipulations to help treat the source of the pain. There is a little bit of a cross over between physios and CEPs with a few key differences; these similarities and differences makes for excellent patient care when they are working together as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Personal trainers have varying levels of education ranging from 6 week courses to bachelors degrees with professional development under their belt. PTs work with healthy populations and use exercise to improve general health and fitness, and they do not have formal training to work with chronic health conditions.

CEPs use scientifically based exercise to improve aerobic fitness, whole body strength and balance with the aim to enhance quality of life of people with chronic health conditions, enabling them to live life to the fullest and have the best management of their condition possible.

Supervision and monitoring during exercise

In order to both prescribe and supervise exercise safely, it is important for CEPs to understand the physiology of their client's health condition(s), how these conditions change the way they will respond during exercise, and the associated risk factors for engaging in exercise training. They also need to take into account their client’s background, current health status, goals and current level of physical fitness/strength.

As clients improve their health and physical fitness, it is essential that they are monitored, as changes to their programme need to be continually made based on how a client feels on each particular exercising day, and how their response to exercise changes as they get fitter.

If you would like to know more about how a clinical exercise physiologist could help you improve your health, please contact us here.

If you would like to learn more about clinical exercise physiologist as a profession, please visit

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