COLUMNS: ACSM Certification
The health benefits of regular physical activity are well known, yet physical inactivity continues to be an important public health challenge in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. Physical inactivity contributes to a variety of chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes and plays a major role in the growing obesity epidemic. Numerous research studies indicate that physical activity has an important role in both the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. Promoting good health and preventing disease through a physically active lifestyle is a goal of exercise professionals and health care providers. Exercise also can be a powerful complement, and in some cases a substitute, to traditional medical interventions (1). For example, in some instances, a physician may be able to reduce or eliminate a patient’s need for insulin or antihypertensive medications if they adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle.
Exercise professionals are all too aware of the difficulty most people have in adopting and maintaining a physically active lifestyle. Although it seems intuitive that individuals would want to do everything they can to remain healthy, a number of barriers such as lack of time, motivation, or bad weather interfere with the ability to remain active. Furthermore, people often don’t know how to exercise safely and effectively, rectify maladaptive behavior, or choose alternative forms of exercise when barriers do arise. Those with chronic diseases or special conditions may need even more guidance because their health status must be taken into consideration when developing the exercise program.
Physicians and other health care providers often tell their patients to exercise yet don’t have the time to go beyond the simple recommendation to “exercise more.” Many physicians also do not have the training necessary to develop an appropriate exercise prescription. Exercise professionals play an important role in bridging the wide gap that exists between physician recommendation and implementation. However, because there are countless certifications available to fitness professionals, health care providers are not sure how to identify qualified professionals to work with their patients, until now.
In 2007, ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) (www.exerciseismedicine.org) campaign was initiated to promote exercise as a health strategy for the general public and to promote a collaboration between health care providers and exercise professionals. The EIM initiative now includes a credential program that will provide exercise professionals with the opportunity to work closely with the medical community and provide numerous additional benefits to the certified professional. These benefits include
- demonstrating competency to work with individuals who are healthy, individuals with chronic disease who have been cleared by their physicians for exercise, and clinical populations
- clarifying for health care providers those exercise professionals who are qualified to work with their patients
- providing exercise professionals an opportunity to market to health care providers and to develop or cultivate patient referrals on a regular basis
In developing a system to credential exercise professionals for EIM designation, ACSM considered the professional preparation necessary to safely and effectively prescribe exercise to a patient population, the skills needed to work within the health care system, and the skills needed to support sustained behavior change. The EIM credential contains three levels based on the health status of the patient referrals. All three levels require exercise professionals to be certified by a National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accrediting organization (see http://www.credentialingexcellence.org/). Formal education (B.S. or M.S. degree in exercise science) provides the exercise professional additional opportunities to work with patients who are at a higher risk. Requirements for the EIM credential can be found in Table 1. Detailed information regarding eligible NCCA-accredited certifications can be found in Tables 2 and 3.
Qualified exercise professionals (Table 1) will be required to take an EIM course and pass an EIM examination unless they have one of the following:
- an exercise science‐based bachelor’s degree plus an NCCA-accredited fitness professional certification with an emphasis on special populations (ACSM-HFS; ACE-AHFS)
- an exercise science‐based master’s degree plus an NCCA-accredited clinical exercise certification (ACSM-CES; ACSM-RCEP)
- an exercise science‐based bachelor’s degree and 4,000 hours of experience in a clinical exercise setting plus an NCCA-accredited clinical exercise certification (ACSM-CES; ACSM-RCEP)
The course is offered online and consists of six 1-hour modules. The content of the computer-based examination is focused on the following competency areas:
- Exercise testing and prescription for special populations: 60%
- Working within the health care system: 20%
- Supporting sustainable behavior change: 20%
In summary, the EIM credential program has the potential to further integrate exercise professionals into the health care system. As the medical community becomes more aware of the role that regular exercise plays in the prevention and treatment of disease, there will be many more opportunities for all certified professionals. The EIM credential pre-conference premieres at ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit March 27, 2012. Go to http://www.acsmsummit.org to register.© 2012 American College of Sports Medicine.