Diabetes Forecast

Exercise Physiologist Monet Bland

As an exercise physiologist, Monet Bland shows people with diabetes how to lead physically active lives

By Hallie Levine , ,

Monet Bland
Photography by John Soares Photos

It was just another day on the job for Monet Bland, an exercise physiologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. For the new patient sitting in her office, a man in his 60s with type 2 diabetes, it was anything but. “I could see how scared he was,” says Bland.

At over 300 pounds, he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and his A1C was over 9 percent. He was once an avid hiker but had been sedentary for years. Now that he was retired, he realized he’d never be able to keep up with his more-active wife unless he took his doctor’s advice to start exercising again. “He clearly felt constrained by his diabetes and wanted his old life back,” says Bland. “I knew my first job was to get him comfortable with exercising again.”

As she does with each of her patients, Bland took a full medical history. From there, she designed a 12-week exercise plan that allowed him to build up gradually, starting with a 20-minute walk outdoors three or four days a week and a weekly strength-training session overseen by Bland. By the end of 12 weeks, the man was working out for an hour most days of the week, he had lost more than 20 pounds, his blood pressure had returned to normal, and his A1C had dropped to less than 7 percent. “It was incredibly gratifying” says Bland. “For both of us.”

Teaching by Example

Success stories like this one are often a weekly—sometimes even daily—occurrence for Bland. As an exercise physiologist, she has specialized training that allows her to develop personalized fitness programs for people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes. “Many of my patients have never exercised before, and they may be overweight or have other, coexisting health issues, such as heart disease,” she says.

Not to be confused with fitness trainers, who simply walk you through a variety of exercise moves, exercise physiologists are adept at helping people with diabetes deal with medical issues, such as low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). They’re also trained to guide patients on how to safely exercise with diabetes-related complications.

It’s a job that comes naturally to Bland, herself an avid exerciser. She ran track and played rugby in college before landing on a USA Powerlifting national team, eventually competing at the prestigious North American Powerlifting Championships and Pan-American Powerlifting Championships. “Training is just a natural part of my lifestyle. It makes me happy, keeps me sane, and keeps me strong,” she says. “And it’s a huge motivation to my patients.”

But there’s another reason Bland works with people with diabetes: Type 2 runs in both sides of her family. “By the time I was a teenager, I realized that [my grandfather’s] healthy lifestyle played a huge role in keeping his diabetes in check,” she says. She keeps her grandfather in mind as she goes about her day developing individualized exercise routines for people with diabetes.

Her patients may be inspired by the gold medals Bland won in powerlifting competitions, but their biggest motivator, she says, is when they start to see their weight—and A1C—go down. Case in point: the man in his 60s who walked into Bland’s office two years ago. “He travels with his wife now and goes on hikes with her all over the country, something he didn’t think was doable two years ago,” says Bland. “Since he first started in our program, he’s lost almost 60 pounds. He’s living proof that exercise can transform your life.”

What Is an Exercise Physiologist?

A certified exercise physiologist (EP-C) is a health professional who creates and supervises exercise programs for people based on their individual health and medical needs. While one goal may be to help people manage a chronic disease such as diabetes, they also help patients improve cardiovascular function and build strength and flexibility. Unlike fitness trainers, who focus on designing exercise programs for clients without chronic conditions, exercise physiologists have special training that allows them to analyze a patient’s medical history, perform fitness and stress tests, and measure blood pressure, oxygen usage, heart rhythm, and blood glucose

How do I know if I need an exercise physiologist?

It may be helpful to schedule  a consultation if you’re newly diagnosed, have been sedentary and need help setting up an exercise program, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or have diabetes-related complications that make it difficult for you to work out.

How do I find an exercise physiologist?

You can find one either through the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (asep.org) or the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org).

What credentials does an exercise physiologist have?

Exercise physiologists typically have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, or kinesiology. Many also have a Basic Life Support or Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification. Make sure the exercise physiologist you are considering is certified through either the American Society of Exercise Physiologists or the American College of Sports Medicine as well, which ensures he or she has worked a minimum number of hours and has stayed up to date with recertification courses.



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