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What Exercise Physiologists Do About this section

Exercise physiologists analyze a patient’s medical history to determine the best possible exercise and fitness regimen.

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition, and flexibility.

Duties

Exercise physiologists typically do the following:

  • Analyze a patient’s medical history to assess their risk during exercise and to determine the best possible exercise and fitness regimen for the patient
  • Perform fitness and stress tests with medical equipment and analyze the resulting patient data
  • Measure blood pressure, oxygen usage, heart rhythm, and other key patient health indicators
  • Develop exercise programs to improve patients’ health

Exercise physiologists work to improve overall patient health. Many of their patients suffer from health problems such as cardiovascular disease or pulmonary (lung) disease. Exercise physiologists provide health education and exercise plans to improve key health indicators.

Some physiologists work closely with primary care physicians, who may prescribe exercise regimens for their patients and refer them to exercise physiologists. The physiologists then work with patients to develop individualized treatment plans that will help the patients meet their health and fitness goals.

Exercise physiologists should not be confused with fitness trainers and instructors (including personal trainers) or athletic trainers.

Work Environment About this section

Exercise physiologists perform fitness and stress tests with medical equipment and analyze the subsequent patient data.

Exercise physiologists held about 21,400 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of exercise physiologists were as follows:

Self-employed workers 65%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 21
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 2
Offices of physicians 2
Government 2

Work Schedules

Most exercise physiologists work full time.

How to Become an Exercise Physiologist About this section

Exercise physiologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Exercise physiologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. Degree programs include science and health-related courses, such as biology, anatomy, kinesiology, and nutrition, as well as clinical work.

Education

Exercise physiologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, kinesiology, or another healthcare and related field. Master’s degree programs also are available. Degree programs in exercise physiology, exercise science, and kinesiology are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). These programs usually include courses in science and health-related subjects, such as biology, anatomy, statistics, kinesiology, and nutrition, as well as clinical work. 

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Louisiana is the only state that requires exercise physiologists to be licensed, although some states have pending legislation to create licensure requirements.

Employers typically require exercise physiologists to have Basic Life Support (BLS) certification or Advanced Life Support (ACLS) certification, both of which include training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) offers the Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) certification, which physiologists can use to demonstrate their qualifications. To be eligible for certification, candidates must pass the ASEP exam and hold ASEP membership. In addition, candidates must have either a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology or a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and they must have completed specific coursework requirements. To maintain certification, candidates must complete continuing education courses every 5 years.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also offers certifications for exercise physiologists: the Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) and the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP) credentials for candidates with a bachelor’s degree, as well as the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) for candidates with a master’s or higher degree. All three ACSM credentials require CPR certification and passing an exam. Candidates for the CEP and the RCEP also must have at least 400 and 600 hours of supervised clinical experience, respectively. All three ACSM certifications require candidates to complete continuing education courses every 3 years, and keep their CPR certification up to date.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Because exercise physiologists work with patients who may be in considerable pain or discomfort, they must be sympathetic while working with patients.

Decisionmaking skills. Exercise physiologists must make informed clinical decisions because those decisions could affect the health or livelihood of patients.

Detail oriented. Exercise physiologists must record detailed, accurate information about their patients’ conditions and about any progress the patients make. For example, they must ensure that patients are completing the appropriate stress tests or practicing the correct fitness regimen.

Interpersonal skills. Exercise physiologists must have strong interpersonal skills and manage difficult situations. They must communicate clearly with others, including physicians, patients, and patients’ families.

Pay About this section

Exercise Physiologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Exercise physiologists

$47,940

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for exercise physiologists was $47,940 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,950.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for exercise physiologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $81,890
Hospitals; state, local, and private 47,970
Offices of physicians 47,270
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 47,000

Most exercise physiologists work full time.

Job Outlook About this section

Exercise Physiologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

9%

Exercise physiologists

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of exercise physiologists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for exercise physiologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Demand for these workers may rise as healthcare providers emphasize exercise and preventive care to help patients recover from cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and improve their overall health.

Employment projections data for exercise physiologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Exercise physiologists

29-1128 21,400 23,400 9 1,900 Get data

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