What is an Exercise Referral?

An Exercise Referral is a specific and formalised programme whereby a medical professional refers a patient to a fitness programme, or a patient can refer themselves if they are ready to embark on their healthier lifestyle and have medical conditions, these are often based within the community. It is not the same as a ‘recommendation’ to exercise. A formal agreement will exist between the referrer and the exercise project. Usually (though not exclusively) run by local authority leisure centres, they will typically ensure a 12 week supervised programme of physical activity tailored to suit the needs of the referrer and the referred client, with a view to improving their state of health. 

The principal of referral to exercise was established in the early 90s and since that time a range of qualifications and competencies have been developed to ensure the safe and effective programming for clients with a range of medical conditions. 

What level of instructor can work with referred clients? 

The Exercise Referral Instructor (Level 3) 

  • An exercise referral instructor’s role includes designing, monitoring, adapting and implementing exercise programmes for individual clients with a range of medical conditions. 

Occupational Role 

  • Assess, monitor and manage risk to clients arising from exercise participation throughout the referral period 
  • Analyse information relating to individual clients with regard to safe and effective programme design 
  • Identify, agree and review short, medium and long term goals to ensure the effectiveness of exercise programmes 
  • Promote a range of physical activity opportunities in accordance with the needs and health status of the clients 
  • Tailor progressive exercise appropriate to the medical condition using results from the physical/exercise assessments, medical information, national guidelines and client goals and objectives 
  • Develop and apply strategies to motivate clients to adhere to an exercise programme during the referral period 
  • Keep up to date with health and fitness industry developments and exercise guidelines for medical conditions 
  • Make the appropriate decisions relating to clients, where required, refer the client to a more appropriate professional 

Occupational Competence 

  • Exercise Referral Instructors are aware of their professional role boundaries and are able to support clients with the following medical conditions 

Respiratory Conditions 

  • Asthma 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 

Musculoskeletal Conditions 

  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Joint replacement 
  • Simple mechanical back pain 
  • Osteoporosis 

Cardiovascular Conditions 

  • Hypertension 
  • Hypercholesterolaemia 

Psychological/Mental Health Conditions 

  • Depression 
  • Stress 
  • Anxiety 

Metabolic/Immunological Conditions 

  • Diabetes Type I and Type 2 
  • Obesity 

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