Copyright 1997-2006  American Society of Exercise Physiologists. All Rights Reserved.



December, 2006; Vol. 10 No. 12   
 Editor: Dr. Lonnie Lowery

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Workplace Scientists, Not Simply Technicians
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Editorial: Workplace Scientists, Not Simply Technicians
Dr. Lonnie M. Lowery, ASEP Board of Directors

Partly as a response to a Board of Directors Editorial that was published in this Newsletter earlier this past Fall, I'd like to offer some reasons why we must strive to strike a balance between certification/ vocation on one hand and a university degree on the other.

You see, as an exercise physiologist who teaches in a related discipline that already has a solid profession (with licensure) waiting for many graduates, I often discuss the nature of overall university preparation with colleagues. Although in nutrition we are fortunate to have the profession of dietetics waiting for bachelors and masters-prepared graduates, we also remain cognizant of the fact that we are not merely a vocational (vo-ed) program. Far beyond the efforts of many technical schools or associate degree programs, we strive to imbue students with a foundation that delves far deeper than the "how" necessary to garner a weekly paycheck. We endeavor to instill a strong foundation regarding the "why" that underlies the skills necessary to operate in the workplace.   

This awareness that permeates a number of healthcare disciplines, comes easily in my experience to professors in exercise physiology settings. Exercise physiologists tend to be critical thinkers by nature. Exercise physiology has an amazing body of knowledge - one that is perhaps even stronger than that seen in related disciplines/ professions. Importantly, exercise physiologists actively generate this knowledge base themselves; they do not wait to have evidence handed to them by physicians or nurses or other biologists. The resulting academic foundation that comes from these "in house" leaders uniquely advances the underlying "whys" of the field. And although we may have overemphasized research at the expense of job skills in the past, we cannot dismiss its necessity. Much to the contrary, in fact, we should continue to produce graduates who are scientists in their own right as they enter the workplace.

And enter the workplace we must. Exercise physiology students need only the chance to demonstrate their superiority to personal trainers or even other college-prepared professionals when it comes to physical fitness expertise. This superior training - in both experience and specificity of topics - will not automatically be recognized by others. Unfortunately we may be looking at a future five to 10 years that are much to the contrary. Related healthcare professions are even now aggressively certifying one another in exercise physiology-type specialties. I, for one, would argue that this glut of certifications and the skills they represent cannot replace exercise-specific five-year university degrees. Sure, you'll hear lip service to the concept that a university degree is required to take a certain certification test - offered by a certain organization for a certain fee - but does that exercise-focused piece of paper really equal a half-decade of university training? Can a nurse or dietitian with a certificate (proving their skill competence) do everything that a university-trained exercise physiologist can do? Or would we all be better served by a respectful referral network, acknowledging each other's degrees, when it comes to scope of practice overlap? National organizations should forget about profits for one moment and consider this solemnly. Standardization of university curricula aside (and appreciated), one simply cannot cram five years of lab work, didactic preparation, internship rotations and work experience into a weekend seminar, a test and a ("crossover") certificate.

As we exercise physiologists move toward recognition through Board Certification, Licensure, workplace presence and public awareness we need to remember our strengths. One of those strengths is our unique academic preparation. It involves an understanding of science, technology and critical thinking, not just a set of manual skills. Do readers of this Newsletter think the public could use ambassadors of science like this? I certainly do. It's a need that is not met optimally, even by other "crossover-certified" healthcare workers. And it gets far worse. Every day the public is bombarded by pseudoscience and commercialism. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity are growing unabated while certified and "skilled" but non-degreed gurus market their wares without the depth of understanding that could protect the public. We, however, do have such an understanding. It took us four or six or even ten years at university to get it. We have been granted the power of knowledge: The ability to teach with authority, the understanding to solemnly consider the ethics and impact of our decisions, the capacity to evaluate the safety and efficacy of emerging treatments, and yes the ability to apply technical skills to prevent and treat some of our world's most prevalent diseases. As legitimate exercise physiologists, we need to value and use a background so rich it can be granted a full, specific university degree (all the way up to a doctorate). Standardization of skills through accreditation and certification is deeply important but let's never forget that we are also scientists. 

  Ask the Professor: Your Inside Scoop on Tough Questions
Note: Ask the Professor is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be taken as healthcare advice. Please do not submit questions of a personal nature (e.g. fitness programs, nutrition advice solicitation, etc.) Thanks.

Q.) I am working as a personal trainer while I finish school and my clients are asking whether exercise will allow them to pig out over the Holiday Season. What's your take on this?  

A.) Although we need to be cautious and make a referral to a dietitian regarding specific food topics, general information can be shared. For example, many persons do gain approximately one to three pounds over the 30+ day-long Holiday Season. This is less than you may hear on the evening news but as a budding scientist you know that a look at the scientific literature can provide better information. The interesting thing after such a look is that a person's weight gain, however small, doesn't appear to go away after the winter string of parties and leftovers. This is serious as it may be a big contributor to the annual fat gain we hear so much about in our society.

From an exercise perspective, one can find research that working out either before or after a meal can alter the metabolism enough to minimize triacylglycerol (fat) storage. Exercise beforehand opens a "nutrient window" in which blood flow, enzymatic and hormonal activity is likely to shunt more of the ingested food to skeletal muscle storage/ synthesis. This may sound especially good to those persons interested building muscle mass. It's also of interest to those hoping to minimize adipose gain because the muscles can take up a larger proportion of the nutrients, leaving less for fat storage. Conversely, exercising after a meal would help oxidize the circulating macronutrients (glucose, fat and a perhaps some amino acids), leading to less overall deposition.

Regardless of meal-exercise timing, remember that overall energy balance is an important determinant of weight gain, so extra cognizance of physical activity during the coming month of surplus intake could be a very good thing. And although food is a simple pleasure of life, moderation rather than a "pig out and try to burn it off" mentality is usually more prudent. 


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