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New degree focuses on prevention

That’s a loaded question for Bill Brewer, director of RIT’s exercise science program, a new, four-year bachelor’s degree offered through the College of Health Sciences and Technology.

“In many ways we’ve been using medicine to prop up unhealthy lifestyles,” Brewer said. “We know that when people are sedentary it leads to an advent of chronic disease, but we don’t always see exercise prescribed as the therapeutic tool that can enhance patient health.”

The physiological response that occurs during exercise and the effect it has on our health is one of the key themes of RIT’s exercise science program. Brewer believes demand for this expertise will grow as the medical ecosystem moves toward models that require doctors and hospitals to improve patient health over time.

“Today, when signs of coronary artery disease appear, pills are prescribed to change the physiological state that was brought about by inactivity,” Brewer said. “The purpose of our program is to create a professional who has the expertise to help people establish exercise patterns to recover from disease or fend it off in the first place.”

The exercise science major provides students with a solid educational base in the biomedical sciences along with a core curriculum in exercise physiology, fitness, and kinesiology (how the body moves). Its clinical track is designed for students who want to help people recover from the unhealthy effects of a sedentary lifestyle. The athletics track is aimed at the science behind improving athletic performance.

The four-year degree requires the completion of 120 credit hours, which includes 65 credits in the liberal arts and sciences, six elective credits and 49 credits specifically in exercise science course work. Brewer, who founded the program, says demand for specialists in both medicine and athletic conditioning is growing.

A science-based approach to athletic conditioning enhances performance and reduces injury, he said. Students learn how to better train and maintain athletes, and have an opportunity to gain hands-on experience through RIT’s athletic program.

As the population ages, clinical exercise medicine also is emerging. Clinical exercise science professionals help patients understand basic indicators of health such as cholesterol and body-mass index. They study how to motivate patients to change, and learn about the underlying challenges associated with weight loss and smoking. “What does it take to help a 60-year-old patient with high blood pressure, a new knee and a pill habit to get fit?” Brewer said. “Dentists have done a great job teaching us the importance of brushing teeth, and we’re looking for the same kind of impact when it comes to consistent activity over time.”