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Science-Backed Benefits of Exercise Therapy

Science-Backed Benefits of Exercise Therapy

Reading Time: 6 minutes 45 seconds


DATE: 2024-06-17

We often talk about “exercise as medicine.” This is due to the important role that physical activity plays in health. With regular exercise, we can prevent and treat many health conditions. It can also aid in disease management. This is the overarching goal of exercise therapy.

What Is Exercise Therapy?

Some people work on their physical fitness to look better. Or they want to achieve peak performance. For others, exercise is a form of rehabilitation. Or it supports treatment. They have a chronic health condition or injury and want to feel better. Engaging in regular exercise helps them achieve this goal. And an exercise therapy specialist can create the program.

Exercise therapy uses the same techniques as exercise designed for those without illness or injury. It can help a client build muscle or lose weight, for instance. However, it’s also important that the movements included don’t aggravate the client’s condition. This is why exercise therapy specialists need to know the most common injuries and illnesses clients face.

4 Main Types of Exercise Therapy Benefits

Understanding exercise therapy approaches is part of a specialist’s role. It’s also helpful for other fitness professionals to understand the benefits that exercise therapy provides. This tells you when to recommend this therapy to clients. 

While there are many exercise therapy benefits, they fall into four general categories:

  • Physiological benefits

  • Physical health benefits

  • Mental health benefits

  • Social benefits

Physiological Benefits of Exercise Therapy

Exercise therapy affects the body in several different ways. Here are some of its physiological benefits.

Increased Muscle Strength

Exercise therapy boosts muscle strength. Resistance training is used within a variety of rehabilitation programs. You see it in occupational therapy and physical therapy plans. It’s also a key component of exercise therapy.

Maybe a client had surgery. As a result, they didn’t do much moving around. This can cause the affected muscle to weaken. Strength training builds it back up. It can also help people with certain diseases maintain muscle strength.

Research adds that strength training isn’t just helpful for clients. It’s also beneficial for therapeutic providers. A 2022 study reports that when a physical therapist strength trains at least three times per week, their work ability improves. (1)

Corrects Musculoskeletal Dysfunction

Muscle and joint dysfunction can cause a variety of issues. One is increased pain. They can also lead to gait disorders and increased injury risk. Sometimes dysfunction is from muscle weakness. It can also be a result of muscle imbalance. Strength training can help correct both dysfunctions.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Using endurance exercise in therapy also provides positive effects. Aerobic exercise elevates respiration and metabolic rates. Getting the blood pumping improves circulation. This makes it good for cardiovascular health.

Many cardiovascular rehabilitation programs have an exercise component. Research connects exercise with reduced hospital admissions for cardiac patients. It also improves their quality of life. Long-term, it may even extend their longevity. (2)

Greater Flexibility

Another physiological benefit of exercise therapy is greater flexibility. Flexibility exercises help improve mobility. This is especially critical for older adults. Reduced mobility can make it harder to perform daily activities. In this way, exercise therapy supports independence with age.

Flexibility is also important for full range of motion. Injuries can limit this range. So can surgery, through scar tissue. Exercise therapy helps clients overcome these issues. It restores their ability to move more freely.

Stronger Immunity

Research also links physical exercise with improved immune system function. This is due, in part, to increasing the circulation of cells important for immunity. This includes leukocytes and natural killer cells. Exercise also counteracts age-related deteriorations of immune function. (3)

How Exercise Therapy Promotes Physical Health 

Exercise therapy improves clients’ physical health. Here’s how. 

Injury Recovery

Exercise therapy can aid in sports injury recovery. One study involved 54 male athletes with a concussion. Some engaged in aerobic exercise for 20 minutes a day. The rest did no exercise at all. Those in the exercise treatment group recovered more quickly. (4)

Injury Prevention

Exercise therapy isn’t only good for injury rehabilitation. It may even prevent future injury. Research supports exercise for knee injury prevention in soccer and handball players. (5) A 2021 article promotes shoulder exercises for reducing injury in athletic populations. (6)

Pain Relief

Therapeutic exercise can also reduce physical pain. Roughly one in five adult Americans experience chronic pain. Long-term pain can reduce quality of life. It makes everyday activities more difficult. Exercise therapy helps by aiding in pain management. (7)

One review assessed exercise therapy for chronic low back pain. It included 10 articles with 688 subjects. Researchers concluded that exercise was effective in easing pain, particularly when it was core exercises or Pilates. (8)

A different review looked at exercise therapy for osteoarthritis. It found that therapy helped reduce hip and knee pain. It also improved physical function and performance. It even improved patients’ quality of life. (9)

Chronic Condition Management

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease. Therefore, exercise therapy can aid in its management. But it can help with other chronic conditions too. We’ve already mentioned how it is used in cardiac rehab. This makes it good for people with heart disease.

Research adds that regular physical activity is good for:

  • Diabetes

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Various types of cancer (10)

Exercise therapy can help people with these conditions. It can improve their mobility. It can increase their strength and flexibility. It can help them live a higher quality of life.

Mental Health Benefits of Therapeutic Exercise

Exercise is physical. It builds muscle and increases your heart rate. But it provides mental health benefits too.

Mental Health Treatment 

Mental illness affects one in five Americans. Some struggle with anxiety or depression. Others are diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia, or another psychological disorder. (11) What can help? Physical exercise.

A 2021 review looked at the role of exercise in mental health. It reports that lower physical activity is associated with poorer mental health. Exercise can also be helpful for treatment. Two conditions it has been found most helpful for are depression and anxiety. (12)

Reduced Burnout

Many people deal with work-related burnout. They are tired mentally and physically. Their long work schedules are making life less enjoyable. While exercise may be the last thing they want to do, it can help. Research suggests that exercise may be a good burnout treatment. It might even prevent feeling burnt out in the first place. (13)

Improved Cognitive Function

Do you have a client who struggles with mental focus or clarity? Maybe they have a cognitive impairment such as dementia. Studies have found that exercise offers some benefits. They report that all types of exercise help protect cognitive function. However, resistance training is best for slowing cognitive decline.

Better Self-Image

Another mental health benefit of exercise therapy is a better self-image. Some research shows positive benefits with yoga. Other studies cite improved body image with resistance exercise. Many people face low self-esteem. Engaging in exercise therapy can help turn this around. (14)

Increased Self-Confidence

Therapeutic exercise can also increase self-confidence. Confidence can lag after sustaining an injury. It can also be reduced by chronic disease. Clients start to lose faith in their abilities. They worry because they can no longer do things they once did. This can drag them down.

Exercise therapy provides a confidence boost. Clients learn they can still work out. In some cases, even harder than they thought. This reminds them of their abilities. This confidence can extend into other areas as well. They push themselves harder because they realize they can do more than they thought. 

Greater Feelings of Control

It’s easy to feel like life is out of your control when you’re injured or ill. Exercise is one thing clients can always have control over. Yes, the exercise therapist creates the plan. But it is created with the client’s input. And the client has total control over its execution. This helps them feel more in charge of their life. 

Social Exercise Therapy Benefits

Exercise therapy also provides clients with social benefits. Here are two to consider.

Provides Contact with Others

Not everyone has a strong social network. Some people live alone. Social isolation is also common with remote work. Getting out of the house to go to exercise therapy gives clients a chance to interact with others.

Even if the therapist is the only one they see, it’s a step in the right direction. If it’s a group class, this provides even greater social opportunities. Clients can connect with others. Setting up a Facebook page for all your exercise therapy clients is another option. It helps foster these social connections.

Offers Enjoyable Physical Activity

Another positive aspect of exercise therapy is that it can be enjoyable. It makes clients feel better, so they look forward to it. It’s like looking forward to a hobby or fun activity. If you like doing it, you feel better. When you feel better, you’re more willing to get out of your shell because you’re happy. You want to share that happiness with others. This makes you more social.

These are just some of the benefits of a therapeutic exercise program. Want to offer these types of therapy sessions to your clients? You can, with the right training.

Expand Your Training Services with Exercise Therapy

If you want to provide your clients with the many benefits of exercise therapy, specialized training can teach you how. You can learn effective rehabilitation approaches. A training course can also teach you how to work with clients with a chronic disease. 

Offering exercise therapy can help set you apart from other fitness trainers. It also provides a much-needed service for those living with long-term health conditions.

ISSA’s Exercise Therapist certification course provides the knowledge and skills needed to work in this role. In it, you learn the principles of therapeutic exercise, how to utilize adaptive programming techniques to address client limitations, and more. This course is also entirely online, giving you maximum control over when and how you study.

Featured Course

ISSA | Exercise Therapist

According to the American Sports Data Company Inc., numerous employment opportunities are opening up in facilities for health & fitness professionals who have an expertise in Post-Rehab exercise. Nearly 1,000 hospitals in the US alone have already opened fitness facilities and hundreds more are in various stages of development. The broad goal of this certificate program is to train students for an entry-level position in Exercise Therapy through distance education.


  1. Calatayud, J., Morera, Á., Ezzatvar, Y. et al. Importance of frequency and intensity of strength training for workability among physical therapists. Sci Rep 12, 15016 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-18539-4

  2. Long L, Mordi IR, Bridges C, Sagar VA, Davies EJ, Coats AJS, Dalal H, Rees K, Singh SJ, Taylor RS. Exercise‐based cardiac rehabilitation for adults with heart failure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003331. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003331.pub5. Accessed 24 May 2024.

  3. Meyer-Lindemann, U.; Moggio, A.; Dutsch, A.; Kessler, T.; Sager, H.B. The Impact of Exercise on Immunity, Metabolism, and Atherosclerosis. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24, 3394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24043394

  4. Leddy, John J. MD, FACSM, FACP*; Haider, Mohammad N. MD, PhD*,†; Hinds, Andrea L. PhD*; Darling, Scott MD*; Willer, Barry S. PhD. A Preliminary Study of the Effect of Early Aerobic Exercise Treatment for Sport-Related Concussion in Males. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 29(5):p 353-360, September 2019. | DOI: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000663

  5. Arundale, A. J., Bizzini, M., Giordano, A., Hewett, T. E., Logerstedt, D. S., Mandelbaum, B., Scalzitti, D. A., Silvers-Granelli, H., & Snyder-Mackler, L. (2018). Exercise-Based knee and anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy/Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 48(9), A1–A42. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2018.0303

  6. Cools, A. M., Maenhout, A. G., Vanderstukken, F., Declève, P., Johansson, F. R., & Borms, D. (2021). The challenge of the sporting shoulder: From injury prevention through sport-specific rehabilitation toward return to play. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 64(4), 101384. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rehab.2020.03.009

  7. Rikard SM, Strahan AE, Schmit KM, Guy GP Jr.. Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2019–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:379–385. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7215a1

  8. Khaledi, Arash & Bayattork, Mohammad & Gheitasi, Mehdi. (2020). The Effectiveness of Exercise Therapy on Improving Pain and Functional Disability in Patients with Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review of English Clinical Trials. 89-107. 

  9. Goh, S., Persson, M. S., Stocks, J., Hou, Y., Lin, J., Hall, M. C., Doherty, M., & Zhang, W. (2019). Efficacy and potential determinants of exercise therapy in knee and hip osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 62(5), 356–365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rehab.2019.04.006

  10. Luan, X., Tian, X., Zhang, H., Huang, R., Li, N., Chen, P., & Wang, R. (2019). Exercise as a prescription for patients with various diseases. Journal of Sport and Health Science/Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(5), 422–441. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2019.04.002

  11. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2024, March 18). Mental Health Conditions. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/about-mental-illness/mental-health-conditions/

  12. Smith, P. J., & Merwin, R. M. (2021). The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative review. Annual Review of Medicine, 72(1), 45–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943

  13. Ochentel, O., Humphrey, C., & Pfeifer, K. (2018, September 1). Efficacy of Exercise Therapy in Persons with Burnout. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6090391/

  14. Huang, X., Zhao, X., Li, B., Cai, Y., Zhang, S., Wan, Q., & Yu, F. (2022). Comparative efficacy of various exercise interventions on cognitive function in patients with mild cognitive impairment or dementia: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Health Science/Journal of Sport and Health Science, 11(2), 212–223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2021.05.003

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