Exercise physiologists on preventative health in Tasmania

The relatively new profession of exercise physiology is on the rise in Australia, but are enough resources being put into this preventative health measure? CARLY DOLAN finds out.

Josh Burk and Jemma Preece have a career that is still somewhat niche in Tasmania, but is fast gaining popularity.

Exercise physiologists are university qualified allied health professionals.

They specialise in the treatment and management of acute, sub-acute and chronic medical conditions, injuries and disabilities.

“The rates of chronic illness in Tasmania are just massive compared to the rest of the country,” Mr Burk said.

“We’ve got a real problem down here so it’s trying to get our profession out there.

“We focus a lot on the management of chronic health conditions. More ongoing support and really specialising in exercise and lifestyle changes and a holistic approach.”

He and Ms Preece work in Launceston with a wide range of clients.

“Some maybe just want to improve their health and want to have appropriate exercise if it’s scary for them to go to the gym where everyone’s walking around doing their own thing,” Mr Burk said. 

“They want to have something a little bit more simple and individualised. Other people have lots of chronic health conditions and are really downbeat and deconditioned want to change their life and get healthier.”

The Sunday Examiner is running a preventative health series, looking at the current “crisis” in acute health, and what’s needed to make Tasmania Australia’s healthiest population.

The state government last year launched a five-year plan, putting $6.4 million into preventative health measures, largely focused on reducing smoking and obesity.

However, while experts say it’s a step in the right direction, they don’t believe enough resources are being put into prevention to move from an “illness system” to a “wellness system”.

Ms Preece said more of a focus should be put on preventative health and that more funding could be put into exercise physiology services.

“Exercise physiologists are not that well-known and utilised,” she said. 

“That behaviour change in getting people to look after their own conditions is going to prevent them getting worse and it will prevent hospitalisations.

"If we can help them manage their conditions, we’re saving the money that’s spent with them going back into hospital and relapsing.”

Mr Burk said targeting people earlier was key to improving the state’s chronic illness statistics.

“It’s about targeting the people who are at risk earlier - getting into schools, getting people when they’re young - making positive behaviour changes then, so that by the time they’re 50 or 60, they’re not high risk of having a coronary event or being overweight with high blood pressure,” Mr Burk said.

They want people to know exercise doesn’t have to be scary, or expensive.

“You don’t have to change everything at once. It’s a process. Your health is something that’s so multi-factorial,” Mr Burk said. 

“You don’t have to run a marathon everyday and only eat greens to stay healthy. You just make small changes, because people who make small changes and are a little bit physically active, they sleep better, they eat a little bit better, usually they’re just a little bit more active in everyday life

“It’s just making it more of a lifestyle than a chore.

“The biggest things we try and tell people is, exercise can seem really scary for a lot of people and a lot of people don’t realise that even just a little bit of exercise can have a lot of benefits.”

Exercise physiologists are not that well-known and utilised. That behaviour change in getting people to look after their own conditions is going to prevent them getting worse and it will prevent hospitalisations.

Jemma Preece

Ms Preece said exercise physiologists focused on giving clients the tools they needed to live a healthy lifestyle, rather than being reliant on a professional for motivation and accountability.

“Generally, you’ll see an EP the week after your initial assessment and then you start to stretch it out, so you might go a week, then a month, then three months, then six months, 12 months, then you might have that annual review,” she said.

“That’s because we’re promoting behaviour change and trying to get people to look after their own conditions.

“In some cases, EPs do run weekly classes and people like to come along to those, but review-wise, we try to stretch it out and let people take over their own management of their health.”

Ms Preece said exercise should be incorporated into daily life.

“It doesn’t have to be a chore. You don’t have to see it as, ‘I’m going to go out and exercise now’. It’s just simple things you can do in your daily life like parking further away from the shops and walking and using the stairs.”

Exercise could also be achieved at home using household items like cans of beans and an old milk bottle filled with water for weights, or a broomstick for stretching.

“The days are getting longer, the weather’s getting better and there are some beautiful spots around Launceston that you can exercise in,” Mr Burk said.

  • The Sunday Examiner is running a preventative health series, talking to experts about how the state could move from an illness system to a wellness system, with prevention at its core.