It’s well-known that exercise is important for our general health. It can help manage cardiovascular health, cholesterol, and blood pressure, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and plenty more. Prescribing exercise is becoming increasingly common for GPs and other health professionals, as our knowledge about how regular physical activity affects our wellbeing continues to grow.
Exercise Physiologists are university-qualified health professionals who provide education and support regarding physical activity to achieve a client’s goals, improve their general health, or manage health conditions.
We asked one of our Exercise Physiologists, Dominik from our Barton and Bruce clinics, about how Exercise Physiology is used to manage chronic diseases.
Firstly, a bit about chronic disease
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) defines chronic diseases as “Long-lasting conditions with persistent effects.”[i] They can have social and economic consequences that impact a person’s quality of life, such as prolonged pain, loss of functionality or freedom of movement, and financial strain to manage the condition/s. Australia is seeing a rise in chronic diseases due to lifestyle and environmental factors, an ageing population, and our improved ability to diagnose conditions.
There are 10 major chronic condition groups that are commonly reported on by AIHW:
- Back pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Mental health conditions
In 2017-18, AIHW reported:
- 47% of Australians had 1 or more of the 10 selected chronic conditions.
- 51% of hospitalisations involved 1 of the 10 selected chronic conditions.
- 89% of deaths in 2018 were associated with at least 1 of the 10 selected chronic diseases.
How does Exercise Physiology help manage chronic diseases?
Based on the individual condition, exercise can help improve the effect of medications and treatment, and can improve general health and the body’s resilience to disease (for example, improve bone mineral density and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety). Evidence shows that participating in regular moderate forms of physical activity can delay the onset, slow down the progression, and reduce mortality in chronic disease.[ii]
Our Exercise Physiologists, like Dominik at our Barton and Bruce clinics (and we also have EPs in our Dickson, and Weston clinics), work with our clients to develop goal-focussed effective future plans that prescribe appropriate exercises and physical activity to help improve general health and manage chronic conditions.
EPs can be recommended by your GP as part of a Chronic Disease Management or Team Care Arrangement, but you can also book an appointment with an Exercise Physiologist as a private patient without a referral to improve and manage your health and chronic conditions.
Referral through a GP
First up, make an appointment with your GP about any concerns, symptoms, or to discuss management of any chronic diseases.
Following the appointment with your GP regarding chronic disease, your GP may then put you on a Chronic Disease Management Plan or Team Care Arrangements which would include a referral to an EP. With that referral, you can then book an initial consultation with one of our EPs (which you can do online or call 1800 001 500 to reach one of our clinics).
In an initial consult, an Exercise Physiologist will ask you questions about your medical and injury history to set goals for your health, focusing on improving quality of life. They will also complete some clinical assessments to objectively measure your health and relevant function, such as cardio-respiratory testing, grip strength, balance tests, and other tests. These assessments help your EP develop an exercise program tailored specifically for you. At the Barton clinic, Dom likes using the AxIT System to objectively measure patients’ strength and function because it provides reliable quantitative data. Our EPs will use a range of approaches and equipment to test effectively.
“Based on the patient’s goals, assessment results, and any special considerations or contraindications, I’ll formulate an effective future plan,” Dom said. “That plan may entail a home exercise program or exercises the patient regularly does with me in-clinic.”
After that initial consultation, your EP will be in touch with your GP periodically to report on progress and milestones as needed for a Chronic Disease Management Plan.
You may then see your EP once or twice a week or once every few weeks (depending on your case) to complete monitored exercises and review your program according to how your body is responding. Clients on a Chronic Disease Management Plan or Team Care Arrangement may be eligible for rebates.
How it works as a private patient
You don’t need a referral for an Exercise Physiologist, so you can book an initial consultation with an EP to achieve health and/or fitness goals, such as improve your general health or improve function after a surgery or injury, or simply manage your health and wellbeing, such as reducing pain caused by arthritis or improve your mental health. You can book an initial consultation online or via phone.
Our EPs will use the same approach for your initial consult, discussing your current condition, needs and goals, assessing your fitness, strength, and function as needed, and formulating a plan to help you achieve your goals and improve quality of life. That plan can be delivered via the smartphone app we use, called PhysiApp, emailed as a PDF to the patient, or printed for the client to have a hardcopy.
Private patients will then have follow-up sessions with their EP as needed for their case, which could be once a week for a short period of time to closely monitor early function and progress, or once every 4-6 weeks. Once you’re comfortable with your program, you might check in with your EP every 8 weeks to switch up your program as needed or simply book an appointment to address any concerns or new goals. Your EP will advise you on how frequently they recommend you attend the clinic for check-ups or for program updates to be made.
How often should you see an EP?
How often you work with an Exercise Physiologist is completely up to you. Dom likes to use the dentist metaphor: there is no black and white finish date; to ensure you continue to optimise your health, regular check-ups are advised if recommended by your EP.
“Clients can work with their EP periodically for proactive management if it’s important to them, or book an appointment to address any concerns or get back to where they were after an event such as injury or surgery,” Dom said.
“We will also often work with our Physiotherapists directly and that’s a significant advantage for our clients at SportsCare. A client may transition from treatment and restoring function after injury with a Physio to improving function and performance with an EP,” he said. “We’re here to help people do what they love to do and improve their quality of life, it’s a privilege to play a role in a patient’s journey. There’s nothing better than a patient telling you they can go about their day with less or no pain,” he concluded.
Interested in booking with one of our Exercise Physiologists to manage a condition, achieve a health or fitness goal, or improve performance? Find an Exercise Physiologist and book an appointment online or call us 1800 001 500 to reach one of our clinics.
[i] Chronic disease Overview – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Retrieved 1 April 2022, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/health-conditions-disability-deaths/chronic-disease/overview#:~:text=Chronic%20diseases%20are%20long%20lasting,action%20in%20the%20health%20sector
[ii] Norton K. Position statement on physical activity and exercise intensity terminology. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2010;13(5):496-502.