Exercise Science: Definition, Degrees, and Jobs

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Exercise science is all about understanding the principles underlying physical activity and fitness. Want to turn your passion for movement into a career? Learn more about this impactful field to decide whether it’s the right next step for you.

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Exercise science is the study of movement and how it impacts the fitness and health of the human body. Drawing together multiple disciplines, exercise science brings a scientific perspective to the physical activities many of us do every day, including simple actions like running and jumping or more complex ones like training for a big game. 

Not sure if exercise science is the right field for you? Don’t sweat it. In this article, you’ll learn more about what exercise science is, find information on the most common degrees in the field, and explore relevant careers. You’ll also find some free, online courses that will introduce you to related topics to help you hit the ground running and get moving today. 

What is exercise science? 

Exercise science is the study of movement, the ways the human body adapts to it, and how it impacts physical fitness. The field draws from a wide variety of other disciplines, such as anatomy, exercise physiology, exercise psychology, and biomechanics, in order to develop a complete picture of how various applied factors affect human health and fitness. 

Physical fitness is a critical public health issue within the United States. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41.9 percent of adults in America are classified as obese, and 9.2 percent are classified as “severely obese.” Obesity has been linked to such health conditions as heart disease and certain types of cancer [1]. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs related to exercise science will grow in the coming years. For example, the BLS forecasts that job openings for fitness trainers will grow by 19 percent between 2021 and 2031, adding about 65,000 new jobs a year throughout the decade [2]. Exercise physiologists, meanwhile, are expected to grow by nine percent during the same period, resulting in 1,900 new job openings each year [3].

Kinesiology vs. exercise science

Though they are interrelated, kinesiology and exercise science have different scopes of focus that create a meaningful distinction between them. Kinesiology studies the mechanics of movement within the human body, including how exercise impacts physical fitness and health. Exercise science, meanwhile, is a subfield of kinesiology that solely focuses on how movement impacts the physical fitness and health of the human body. In effect, kinesiology is concerned with the mechanics of movement, while exercise science focuses more on the applied impact of movement on the body. 

Exercise science degrees

If you’re interested in being an exercise science major, then you’ll have to decide on whether you want to enter an associate, bachelor’s, or master's degree program. The exact path you decide to take, though, will largely depend on your own resources, goals, and current degree status. 

Here’s what you can expect from each exercise science program: 

Exercise science associate degree

An associate degree will prepare you for entry-level careers in the field, such as being a fitness instructor or personal trainer in a commercial or recreational fitness center. Typically, associate degrees in exercise science take two years to complete and will introduce you to relevant topics like anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and fitness theory. 

Exercise science bachelor's degree 

A Bachelor’s degree in exercise science will prepare you for a career in the field, while also equipping you with a deeper understanding of the science behind exercise, health, and physical fitness. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in exercise science will take four years to complete and introduce you to such critical topics as anatomy, kinesiology, sports nutrition, cellular biology, and biomechanics. 

Masters in exercise science

A graduate program in exercise science prepares students for potentially more advanced positions within the field, such as in health promotion, exercise physiology, and biomechanics research. Typically, a master’s degree in exercise science takes one to two years to complete and includes courses on such topics as advanced biomechanics, exercise physiology, sports nutrition, and advanced human physiology. Furthermore, some programs require students to conduct original research in the field, particularly in laboratory settings. 

Exercise science jobs: What can you do with an exercise science degree?

Degrees in exercise science can prepare you for a wide variety of professional careers – from those focused on athletic training to those concerned with physical therapy or even designing research-backed fitness assessments. Here are some of the careers you might consider pursuing with a degree in the field: 

Learn more with Coursera 

The field of exercise science explores physical fitness from a variety of scientific perspectives, including kinesiology, physiology, and psychology. Start familiarizing yourself with these critical concepts by taking a cost-effective and flexible course through Coursera today.

In Duke University’s free Introductory Human Physiology course, you will learn to recognize and apply the basic concepts that govern integrated body function in the body's nine organ systems. In the University of Colorado Boulder’s Science of Exercise course, meanwhile, you’ll explore how your body responds to exercise and how your behaviors, choices, and environment impact your health and training. 


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Introductory Human Physiology

In this course, students learn to recognize and to apply the basic concepts that govern integrated body function (as an intact organism) in the body's nine ...


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Article sources


CDC. “Adult Obesity Facts, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.” Accessed November 9, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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