Exercise Science vs. Exercise Physiology: What’s the Difference?Exercise Science vs. Exercise Physiology: What’s the Difference?Exercise Science vs. Exercise Physiology: What’s the Difference?

Developing and following an exercise routine can pay life-changing — even lifesaving — dividends. Working with a fitness professional on that routine can enhance the payoff, especially for those with special considerations, such as age, disability, or injury.

An exercise science professional shares a fitness plan with a client

Exercise’s benefits go beyond helping one person’s cardiovascular and muscular health. It can also help you live longer, enhance your mood, and prevent illness. Not exercising, according to the World Health Organization, is a serious problem that can elevate the risk of death, disease, and general poor health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that physical inactivity creates an estimated $117 billion of annual healthcare costs in the U.S. alone.

Not all exercisers are the same. Some people have health issues or other characteristics that call for prescribed types of exercise. The reasons that people may benefit from guided exercise include the following:

  • They have chronic health conditions
  • They’re recovering from injury
  • They’re living with mental illness
  • They’re pregnant or just gave birth
  • They’re older adults
  • They’re athletes or other individuals interested in athletics and sports training

Students interested in helping individuals overcome challenges and meet exercise goals should learn more about the University of Maryville’s online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science program. Exercise science and exercise physiology are great career options, whether a student is an athlete or just passionate about making people physically fit.

Definitions: Exercise Science vs. Exercise Physiology

Comparing exercise science vs. exercise physiology reveals similarities, such as a shared interest in health and wellness. It also shows differences in focus. An exercise science degree can lead the way to a career helping people create exercise routines and achieve their health and fitness goals. Pursuing an exercise physiology job will allow you to study exercise’s effects and prescribe fitness plans.

Exercise Science

Exercise science examines how the body adapts to exercise. The study of exercise science includes considering human movement from a range of standpoints — from historical to psychological to physiological.

A broad term, exercise science encompasses a variety of careers in the growing field of movement and exercise. Coaches, trainers, and corporate wellness managers are among those who often have exercise science degrees.

Exercise Physiology

Exercise physiology is targeted at analyzing, enhancing, and maintaining mental and physical health. Exercise physiologists design and deliver exercise routines for those with specific fitness concerns, such as an injury, illness, or focus on athletic performance.

As with physical therapy, exercise physiology involves helping to restore movement to body parts affected by disease, injury, or other conditions. What sets exercise physiology apart is that it examines how exercise affects bodily systems and organs. Exercise physiologists assess fitness by measuring characteristics such as pulse, oxygen level, strength, and flexibility. Based on that evaluation, they develop customized exercise plans.

Similarities Between Exercise Science and Exercise Physiology

Exercise science and exercise physiology careers require similar interests and degrees.

Movement and Exercise

Both exercise science and exercise physiology study movement and exercise. They call on a fitness program’s basic building blocks, such as training for aerobics, strength, the core, flexibility, and balance. Both exercise science and exercise physiology are suited for those with an interest in physical activity, exercise, and sports.

Required Learning and Skills

General coursework in biology, chemistry, math, nutrition, physiology, and physical fitness are requirements for exercise science and exercise physiology careers. Both disciplines require skills such as analysis, critical thinking, and working well with diverse groups of people.

Degree Requirements

While education requirements vary for physical fitness-related fields, exercise science or exercise physiology professionals can start their careers with a bachelor’s degree. Maryville University online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science program helps set the stage for many careers related to human performance, fitness, and health.

Whether they’re pursuing exercise physiology or another exercise science-related field, students can learn exercise program design, nutrition, and other key exercise science concepts.

Differences Between Exercise Science and Exercise Physiology

While exercise science can include many health and fitness pursuits, exercise physiology emphasizes the body’s response to physical activity.

Prospective Careers

Exercise science careers range from athletic trainer to community health educator to corporate wellness manager. That means exercise science work could take place anywhere — from a healthcare facility to a gym to a corporate office.

Also included in exercise science careers is exercise physiologist, a role rooted in evaluating and planning exercise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about half of exercise physiologists are self-employed, with others working for hospitals and healthcare centers.

Topic Scope

Studying exercise science vs. exercise physiology entails different scopes. Exercise science includes a broad list of concepts, including the following:

  • Physical education
  • Human performance
  • Sports nutrition
  • Training
  • Counseling
  • Business

Exercise physiology is narrower in focus, examining how the body responds to physical activity. In fact, exercise physiology is often an exercise science concentration or specialty. Exercise physiology includes studying the following:

  • Body composition
  • Energy expenditure
  • Weight control
  • Bodily systems and organs
  • Environmental influences

Make Your Move: Pursue an Exercise Science or Exercise Physiology Career

Are you looking for a career that builds on your passion for physical activity and helping people get healthy? Explore  Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science program.

Health and fitness employers helped design the curricula, and industry professionals lead the classes. The online program also features remote, interactive access to Maryville’s state-of-the-art human performance lab. Get started today and help make the world a healthier place.

Recommended Reading

Careers in Exercise Science: Kinesiology vs. Exercise Science Degree

Exercise Science Careers: The Outlook for Exercise Science Professionals

What Is an Exercise Physiologist?


American College of Sports Medicine, “ACSM’s Introduction to Exercise Science”

American Society of Exercise Physiologists, Definition of Exercise Physiology

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lack of Physical Activity

Exercise Right, “5 Reasons You Should See an Exercise Physiologist”

Mayo Clinic, Fitness Training: Elements of a Well-Rounded Routine

ScienceDirect, “The Roles of Exercise Professionals in the Health Care System: A Comparison Between Australia and China”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Exercise Physiologists

Verywell Health, “An Overview of Physical Therapy”

World Health Organization, Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030: More Active People for a Healthier World

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