Exercise Physiologists : Where do we fit in?

Jan 01, 2024

Continuously, I find myself advocating for the critical role of exercise physiologists (EPs) in paediatric health and development. The positive news is that many allied health disciplines are receptive to how we can support them! Throughout this year, I've engaged with various teams like OTs, Speech Therapists, Psychologists, and Physiotherapists, discussing collaborative approaches. Today, I want to amplify that message.


Child health and development statistics are concerning. Here are three pivotal points:


1. Children born in the decade starting 2023 are predicted to have shorter life expectancy than their parents (Health and Wellbeing Queensland, 2022).

2. 22% of children face developmental vulnerabilities upon starting school (AEDC, 2021).

3. Less than a quarter of kids meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise (AusPlay national survey 2015-2018, 2019).


How can we assist?


1. Tackling waitlists:

Traditional routes for children's support often come with lengthy waitlists for Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Psychologists, ranging from 3 months to 2 years across different parts of Australia. Early intervention is crucial, and our collaborations have found a solution. While not dismissing the expertise of these professionals, EPs, somewhat less prominent in paediatric care, presently have shorter or no waitlists. This allows us to promptly attend to these kids, aiding allied health practitioners by screening urgent cases and keeping the kids engaged while they wait for their primary therapy sessions.


2. Maximising resources:

Families struggle with funding pressures and therapy frequency. EPs can sometimes offer a more frequent interval of therapy due to slightly more cost-effective alternative. Additionally, our therapy sessions in small groups efficiently utilise funding without compromising quality, rather adding amazing opportunities to social skills and development.


3. Combatting therapy fatigue:

Children experiencing therapy fatigue, losing interest, or feeling exhausted from sessions are not uncommon. EPs provide an engaging avenue. Movement-based therapy offers a refreshing change, leveraging children's innate inclination to move. We make therapy enjoyable by incorporating games while achieving therapy goals simultaneously.


Research consistently highlights the multifaceted benefits of movement in child development, here are a few that I have pulled from my course:


- Pilates enhances flexibility, muscle strength, postural control, and more (Hornsby et al, 2020).

- Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises contribute to improved brain plasticity (Wittfeld et al, 2020; Chaddock-Heyman et al, 2018).

- Combining mindfulness and movement significantly improves self-regulation (Galla et al, 2016).

- Gross motor function significantly predicts language development (Bedford et al, 2016).

- Sensory deprivation in early life affects social-emotional, cognitive, and motor development (Meggitt, 2012).


EPs address holistic child needs beyond physical benefits and can assist in these key areas' Physical, sensory, cognitive, social emotional and language without compromising the exercise programming and whats even better is that exercise is particularly engaging for the children.


Allied health teams can integrate these insights into their communication strategies. For exercise physiologists, establishing connections with other allied health professionals can pave the way for collaborative efforts, fostering improved outcomes for children. Together, by uniting our expertise, we can make a substantial difference in the lives of these young individuals.