Exercise physiology is the study of how the body reacts to physical exercise, in both the long and short term, and how the body adapts to ongoing exercise and any changes to a routine. It is a growing area of study in both the medical and fitness fields.
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The growth of this discipline has given way to a large number of career paths dedicated to studying the effects of exercise on the human body. But what is the meaning of exercise physiology? Does studying the relationship between exercise and the body's reactions to it have any tangible benefits?
Exercise physiology has many tangible benefits that doctors and fitness experts agree on. But like any area of study, it also has its fair share of quacks that use the research as a means to promote untested exercise routines, equipment, and dietary supplements. If you are considering the advice of an exercise physiologist in beginning a new exercise regimen, use a little bit of common sense in determining the validity of his or her claims.
By a straight definition of terms, what is the meaning of exercise physiology?
According to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary (Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company) exercise physiology is defined as "the study of the body's metabolic response to short-term and long-term physical activity." Exercise physiology is helpful in understanding different kinds of exercises and the benefits the body derives from them.
For example, there is disagreement in the fitness industry over whether or not cardiovascular exercise plays an important role in weight loss and body weight maintenance. Exercise physiology addresses the argument by studying various kinds of cardiovascular exercises and their long and short-term effects on the body. Like any area of scientific study, exercise physiology practiced in a responsible manner is free from personal opinion and pre-conceived ideas. It relies on proper experimentation and scientific results.
If the meaning of exercise physiology implies scientific study, why is there such a broad range of opinions in the field?
As a field of study, exercise physiology is not regulated or controlled by any set of standards in the same way as other fields, such as pathology. Adding to that is the fact that there is no licensing procedure for individuals who pursue a career in exercise physiology. Despite all of the education and training one might receive in college, how studies are conducted in the real world remain largely the domain of the individual exercise physiologists. Without strict guidelines, personal preferences easily work themselves into the study equation.
This isn't to say that exercise physiology studies are worthless. To the contrary, most of the studies produced in recent years are quite valuable if combined with established medical knowledge and other scientific study. Where we have to be careful is in the area of claims made by exercise physiologists that cannot be confirmed or that contradict well-established medical knowledge.
What role does exercise physiology play in relation to other fields of study?
Exercise physiology most definitely plays a role in other fields including hematology, biochemistry, pathology, and cardiopulmonary studies. In fact, it's not uncommon for exercise physiologists to also be engaged in one of these other disciplines. Exercise physiologists can be not only scientists in another field, but also clinical researchers, athletic researchers, trainers, and fitness experts. The combination of all these other disciplines serves to enhance exercise physiology most of the time.
Where exercise physiology is most beneficial is when the results of a particular study can be plugged into another area to give greater understanding. Using the previous example of cardiovascular exercise and its role in weight loss, a long-term study on the body's ability to adapt to such exercise will go a long way in shedding new light on the question. Relying only on the knowledge of the short-term effects of cardio doesn't really address the question due to the fact that weight loss is almost always a long-term thing.
Exercise physiology is an established discipline that is here to stay. Those involved in this field of study would do themselves and their colleagues a great service by working together to establish concrete guidelines for study and research. Researchers in other fields will also benefit by working with exercise physiologists to understand how the body reacts and adapts to physical exercise.