Exercise physiologists: not your average personal trainers

These health care professionals can help cancer survivors improve everyday function and feel better

exercise physiologistsWhen recovering cancer patients want improved everyday function, reduction in fatigue levels or help controlling the side effects of lymphedema, a clinical exercise physiologist can help. mCancerPartner recently discussed the role of exercise physiologists in patient recovery with Chrissy Parker, a certified exercise physiologist on staff at the University of Michigan Health System.

What is exercise physiology?

Exercise physiology is the study of the acute responses and chronic adaptations to a wide range of physical exercise conditions. In addition, many exercise physiologists study the effect of exercise on pathology, and the mechanisms by which exercise can reduce or reverse disease progression. Exercise physiologists are health care professionals who help people to improve, maintain or rehabilitate their everyday function and fitness. Most often they have an advanced degree in exercise physiology or are certified by a professional organization. Sometimes they work in research, for example, working with study participants who are on a treadmill or having their resting metabolism or body mass measured. Other exercise physiologists work in a clinical setting to help patients who are recovering from disease or injury.

People often confuse exercise physiologists with the personal trainers found in most gyms. Many of these have little, if any training in exercise as a medical intervention. Ms. Parker has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and has two certifications: as a cancer exercise trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine; and as a certified strength and conditioning specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

How can exercise physiology help cancer patients?

Working in the Transitions Studio operated by the U-M Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Ms. Parker offers customized programs for cancer patients and survivors. She says this clinical setting allows cancer patients to have continuity of care from cancer treatment, to the Transitions Studio, and then to independent, regular physical activities.

Her services include:

  • Reviewing health history, blood pressure, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, percent body fat and strength testing.
  • Optional fitness assessment. For example, a breast cancer patient may have limitations on arm movement but can perform a treadmill test.
  • Setting up an individual exercise plan that is safe according to each person’s cancer diagnosis, including short and long term goals
  • Individual one-hour training sessions.

There are all kinds of benefits for cancer patients when working with an exercise physiologist, Ms Parker says. Testimonies from cancer patients at the Transition Studio state they feel less fatigue, sleep better and have a sense of improved mood and less stress by exercising regularly. Other perks include the supportive, friendly environment and the fact that a health care professional is always in the studio for clients who are exercising independently.

Take the next step:

  • Find out more about services for cancer patients and survivors at the U-M Transitions Studio (pdf).
  • Learn about the many programs offered by the U-M Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

    mens-health2The University of Michigan Health System’s Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) provides a variety of classes and services promoting better health and fitness for both our patients and the general population. We offer more than 20 medically based exercise classes and programs taught by degreed and/or certified professionals, including cancer survivor personal training services at the Transitions Studio.


University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.