Physiology is a branch of biology which studies all functions of the living body, including mechanical, physical and biochemical. Integrative physiology, also known as exercise science, is the study of how the human body responds to external and internal stimuli, including physical exercise and stress, environmental conditions and disease. This field bridges all of the sciences which measure the response of human biological systems including anatomy, biology, biochemistry, biomechanics, chemistry, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, physiology and statistics.
One of the purposes of integrative physiology is to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to studying the physiology of disease. This requires not only a knowledge of the interrelated functions of organs and systems in the body, but also the ability to utilize advanced technologies in optical imaging, molecular genetics and computer assisted analysis. Integrative physiology makes it possible to examine the breadth of organism functions including disease mechanisms, sensory and cognitive functions and behavior of the whole organism.
Interest in the health benefits of diet and exercise can be traced to ancient texts, and was of significant concern to Greek physicians such as Galen and Hippocrates. Hippocrates believed the key to healthful living and disease prevention was to find the perfect balance of nutrition and exercise. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the field of integrative physiology began to emerge and document the role of exercise and nutrition in health maintenance, but it wasn’t until the last half of the twentieth century that the role of exercise in disease prevention gained universal recognition. Exercise is now recommended as a way to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, osteoporosis and strokes.
Integrative physiology labs use a multi-faceted, integrative approach to investigate health problems and develop new treatment methods for diseases. Some cardiology labs are using this method to develop gene therapy for heart failure, MRI cardiovascular intervention, improved MRI plaque detection and intravascular imaging of plaque. Advances in reproductive, respiratory, cellular and molecular treatments are also being made using an integrative approach.
Integrative physiology is considered an excellent major for students who wish to pursue graduate education in one of the health sciences. This major is also appropriate for someone who wishes to become a biomechanical scientist, biomedical or biophysics engineer, cardiopulmonary technologist, optometrist, dentist, osteopath, epidemiologist, or other medical positions. Job opportunities for students who do not want to go beyond a bachelor's degree in integrative physiology include fitness trainer, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist, or any number of opportunities in the fitness and health related fields.