Medical exercise commonly refers to the specific plan of fitness-related activities that are designed for a specified purpose, which is often developed by a fitness or rehabilitation specialist for the client or patient. Due to the specific and unique needs and interests of the client/patient, the goal of medical exercise should be focused on motivation and customization, thus making achieving goals more likely to become successful.

In the United Kingdom,  medical exercise is referred to as “Exercise on prescription” in which doctors are able to prescribe exercise to those with conditions that benefit from it, such as asthma, depression, or obesity. The initiative particularly aimed to lower the rate of heart disease. National standards for such initiatives from doctors were established by the Department of Health in 2001. Exercise on prescription aims to prevent deterioration of conditions, and views exercise as a preventative health measure. Fitness classes or a course at the local gym are available on prescription at a reduced rate to people who might benefit from them. It aims to make it easier for people to follow their doctors’ advice about taking more exercise or losing weight. Such preventative measures hope to lead to savings for the National Health Service.

Researchers in New Zealand have also discussed the benefits of exercise referral by medical practitioners there. In New Zealand it is known as a green prescription, while in the United States a similar initiative is known as Exercise is Medicine. A green prescription is a referral given by a doctor or nurse to a patient, with exercise and lifestyle goals written on them. The term, used by health practitioners in New Zealand draws parallel to the usual prescriptions given to patients for medications, and emphasizes the importance of exercise in improving their condition, and not relying on drugs. The green prescription is written after discussing the issues and goals in the consultation. Studies have shown that an increase in exercise, better sense of well-being, and a decrease in blood pressure results from using the method. A decreased risk of coronary heart disease has not been shown. This was shown in two studies, one by Swinburn (1998), that surveyed patients in Auckland and Dunedin. The other was Elley (2003) and was done in 42 practices in the same region of New Zealand.

General practitioners like the idea as it formalizes what they are telling the patient about how their lifestyle changes are necessary (Swinburn 1997).

Medical exercise may be broken down into one of two categories:

Rehabilitation Conditioning

The goal of rehabilitation conditioning is to restore a client’s level of physical fitness to their pre-injury or pre-disease state.

An example of a client who would benefit from rehabilitation conditioning through a personal training program is an athlete with a torn ACL. Upon the completion of post-surgery physical therapy, the client will need to train to regain lost strength, speed, endurance, speed, etc., which is accomplished through a rehabilitation conditioning program.

Clients recovering from an extended illness or any condition that took them away from their regular physical fitness routine and resulted in a loss of muscle strength, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility are ideal candidates for rehabilitation conditioning.

Therapeutic Exercise/Exercise Therapy

Therapeutic exercise is best defined as a program of physical fitness that is prescribed to correct impairment, improve a physical function, or maintain a state of well-being. If you are a personal trainer specializing in therapeutic exercise, you will seek to accomplish one or more of the following goals:

  • Enable ambulation
  • Improve circulation
  • Improve coordination and balance
  • Improve exercise performance and endurance
  • Improve muscle strength
  • Improve respiratory capacity
  • Loosen contracted muscles and tendons
  • Mobilize joints
  • Promote relaxation
  • Reduce rigidity

Regardless of the client, the goal of a therapeutic personal training program is the same: to achieve an optimal level of physical fitness by the end of the training period. Therapeutic training is also designed to alleviate symptoms that are associated with specific conditions or ailments.

Clients who would benefit from a therapeutic exercise program include those with:

  • Arthritis
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Disorders that affect balance and/or coordination
  • Chronic joint or muscle pain
  • COPD/emphysema/asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Scoliosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease