New master's degree takes a passion for exercise to the next level

30 September 2009

With weight issues and obesity affecting one in two Australian adults and Type 2 diabetes now one of the leading causes of death in Australia, the potential of exercise strategies to address the growth in chronic disease and maintain a fit and healthy population is undisputed.

The Australian Government confirmed this through the inclusion of exercise physiology services under the Medicare allied health initiative in 2006 and the University of Sydney has now launched a Master of Exercise Physiology program to allow graduates to prepare for accreditation in the field.

"Being able to demonstrate that a program that you have written has improved a physiological trait of an individual is my favourite part of being an exercise physiologist," says Matthew Dwyer, Health and Fitness Officer with the NSW Fire Brigades.

"In the NSW Fire Brigades this might mean increasing a fire-fighters aerobic capacity or reducing their blood pressure through an exerciseand diet intervention."

Matthew Dwyer, exercise physiologist witth NSW Fire Brigades
Matthew Dwyer, exercise physiologist witth NSW Fire Brigades

Originally drawn to the profession by a love of exercise, Matthew completed his Cert III and IV in personal training before realising that this study only scratched the surface. "It was not until I started studying exercise science that I realised that exercise prescription was only one area. It was at the same time that I realised there was much more to exercise physiology than working with healthy populations in the gym."

"Exercise physiology focuses on applying evidence-based, best-practice principles to prevent or effectively manage chronic disease, injury and disability, as well as maintain or improve health and fitness." says Associate Professor Martin Thompson, Convenor of the Exercise, Health and Performance Research Group at the University. "Exercise physiologists work with a range of clients, from those suffering from chronic conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure, to helping patients rehabilitating from stroke or injury."

Matthew's role as an exercise physiologist with the fire brigades focuses on the field of occupational exercise physiology. "A fire-fighter is required to wear approximately 25kg of protective equipment and work in a very hot and stressful environment - all of these factors place high demands on the the cardiovascular system. My role is to ensure that the fire-fighters have a cardiovascular system that can handle these demands."

The new master's program, offered by the University's Faculty of Health Sciences, is designed to provide graduates with the 500 hours of supervised clinical practice required to gain accreditation with the Australian Association of Exercise and Sports Science. Once accredited graduates will be qualified to gain a Medicare provider number and be ready to work in a range of settings including private practice, corporate industry, hospitals and community centres.

"The main advantage of undertaking an exercise physiology degree is that it opens up so many different career opportunities for you in a variety of fields from occupational to sports, or rehabilitation," comments Matthew. "It is an area that continues to develop, but formal study in exercise physiology provides an important base that allows you to pursue your specific area of interest."