If you like the idea of building a career in the fields of wellness and/or fitness, you’ll be happy to hear that there are several exciting options. An exercise science degree can be the perfect way to build the foundation you’ll need for a meaningful career – one that will allow you to make a difference in the lives of others by prioritizing their health and wellness.

The field of exercise science includes a range of different disciplines, including biomechanics, nutrition, sports psychology, motor control/development and more. Read on to learn about what this degree entails and how it could lead to a thriving career practicing exercise science.

What do you learn in an exercise science program?

An exercise science curriculum doesn’t just teach students about healthy workout practices and proper nutrition. Exercise science majors study the human body’s response to the stress of movement by examining the connections between exercise, nutrition and health.

A quality program will teach these principles through a combination of informative lectures, discussions, and hands-on learning experiences, according to Cindy Kidd, adjunct professor for the Mount Mary University (MMU) exercise science program. Students in this program, for example, will gain experience in the following:

  • Science and psychology
  • Body mechanics and physiology
  • Exercise modes and monitoring physical responses for diverse populations
  • Professional standards for personal training and/or group exercise
  • Ethics and motivation of exercise science practices

This multifaceted training prepares graduates for several careers in exercise science because students are equipped to address growing needs in the areas of:

  • Metabolic diseases
  • Chronic diseases
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

The exercise science program at MMU takes this career preparation to the next level by offering students the opportunity to become certified to work professionally while they’re still working their way through their coursework. For example, the program leads to the following certifications:

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine: Personal Trainer Certification
  • Athletics and Fitness Association of America: Group Fitness Instructor Certification
  • American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise Physiologist Certification 

“This program prepares students to work in a field that truly makes a difference in the lives of others. Teaching people how to improve their health and wellness through exercise has a tremendous, positive impact on the world, one person at a time." Cindy Kidd


5 Compelling career paths for exercise science majors

So what can you do with an exercise science degree, exactly? The opportunities might be more widespread than you’d expect.

“Careers in exercise science have great income potential and are in demand in clinics, hospitals, fitness clubs and wellness centers,” says Cheryl Bailey, Dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences at MMU, "consider the following five career paths:"

1. Exercise Physiologist

As an exercise physiologist, you’d have the opportunity to develop fitness and exercise programs with the goal of helping injured or sick patients recover. This involves analyzing a patient’s medical history to assess their risk during exercise and design their fitness plan accordingly. It’s also common practice to perform fitness and stress tests with medical equipment to analyze key indicators of a patient’s health.

To work as an exercise physiologist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, kinesiology or a related field that includes science and health-related courses such as biology, anatomy, kinesiology and nutrition. Specific licensure isn’t required in most states, but employers in this industry often look for candidates who have obtained their Exercise Physiologist Certification.

Jobs in this field are in high demand, expected to grow 13 percent by 2030. And these professionals earn a higher-than-average median annual salary, at $50,280.

2. Health Education Specialist

Much of the work exercise science majors focus upon in their careers revolves around meeting one-on-one with patients or clients. As a health education specialist, you’d have the opportunity to use your knowledge of fitness and wellness to impact larger groups of individuals, often in corporate or community health settings.

Health education specialists develop larger-scale programs to teach people about conditions that may affect their well-being and help them adopt healthy behaviors. This typically involves an in-depth assessment of the health needs of both individuals and communities.

This role will usually require at least a bachelor’s degree, and some employers prefer their health education specialists to be certified. Job openings are expected to grow 17 percent by 2030, with a median annual salary of $56,500.

3. Fitness Trainer

In a much more hands-on role, fitness trainers lead, instruct and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular workouts, strength training and stretching. These exercise science professionals focus on improving a client’s physical abilities by using studied and informed approaches to exercise with a mind for injury prevention.

Fitness trainers – also called personal trainers – may work in a gym environment or in clients’ homes. They evaluate their clients’ current fitness levels and goals, and then develop personalized training programs to facilitate healthy progress.

Many employers prefer to hire fitness trainers who have an associate or bachelor’s degree in a field like exercise science, kinesiology or physical education. It’s also common for trainers to obtain their Personal Trainer Certification and/or their Group Fitness Instructor Certification. And there are further certification opportunities related to the area of fitness in which trainers specialize – things like yoga, kickboxing or strength training.

These fitness professionals are in extremely high demand, with job openings projected to grow an impressive 39 percent by 2030. The current median annual salary for fitness trainers is $40,510.

4. Health Coach

Also referred to as life coaches, enrichment specialists and a variety of other titles, health coaches assist clients in establishing goals and offer targeted guidance and motivation to help achieve them. Such goals can revolve around nutrition, weight loss, fitness, mental wellness or even something that doesn’t seem to tie directly to health, such as a career change.

Health coaches specialize in helping clients achieve their full potential. When working with a client, they create a plan with customized objectives and activities, all with the client’s various goals in mind. Together, they’ll work past obstacles, track progress and celebrate achievements.

While there are no formal requirements for becoming a health coach, training in subjects related to physiology, psychology and fitness can demonstrate credibility with potential clients. High-quality health coaches are also adept in areas like empathy, communication, problem solving and organization.

In this relatively unregulated and fast-growing field, there has yet to be formal data reported on projected job growth or average earnings. But many indicators suggest that this industry is poised for promising growth in the near future.

5. Post-Graduate Study

While this list of exercise science careers is certainly not exhaustive, it’d be a mistake to not highlight the potential an exercise science bachelor’s degree has in preparing students for post-graduate study in a range of different subjects.

Because an exercise science degree provides students with robust skills and knowledge in areas like science, psychology, physiology and ethics in healthcare, it’s not uncommon for students to use this baccalaureate path as the foundation to continue on to earn a master’s or even doctoral degree.

If you’re drawn to the idea of pursuing a career in occupational therapy, physical therapy, kinesiology or nutrition and dietetics, for example, a degree in exercise science could prepare you adequately. Students who hope to one day go to medical school have also found benefit from this undergraduate path.

Make a difference with an exercise science career

It’s clear the field of exercise science offers a lot of variety. The exploration of the connections between exercise, nutrition and health can benefit you in a number of different career paths – all of which will empower you to have a positive impact on those you work with.

Now that you know of several different careers in exercise science, can you envision yourself working in this meaningful, in-demand field?

Learn how MMU’s hands-on learning experiences, small class sizes and emphasis on leadership skills can prepare you for these fulfilling careers in exercise science. For more information, visit our Exercise Science Bachelor’s degree program page.

“Careers in exercise science have great income potential and are in demand in clinics, hospitals, fitness clubs and wellness centers,” said School of Natural and Health Sciences Dean Cheryl Bailey. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 23 percent job growth through 2026.”