COURSES Education

Redefining fitness

The Indian Institute of Sports Medicine (IISM) in Chennai, offers courses that have reinvented the meaning of sports medicine and fitness

In today’s fast-paced era of fast-food, fizzy drinks, and sedentary lifestyles, awareness on fitness has once again, slowly yet surely, resurfaced. While obesity is on the rise, there has been an increase in the number of people who have become equally health conscious and fitness-oriented. Naturally, different avenues in the field have opened up, as lucrative career opportunities, for those interested and armed with adequate knowledge and qualifications.

Some of these courses, introduced in colleges across the country, have busted myths that fitness translates to merely working out in the gym, and losing weight, in order to keep lifestyle diseases at bay. Rather, many of them reiterate to students, right from the start, that fitness is a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle, one that is sustainable.

One such institute, offering such courses, is the Indian Institute of Sports Medicine (IISM), founded in Chennai by Dr. Kannan Pugazhendi, a sports physician. Affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Janaki University, the institute has introduced several need-of-the-hour courses in the last few years. “Disturbing figures of lifestyle disease population in urban and rural was the single foremost reason for IISM to establish these courses,” elaborates Dr. Kannan. “Inappropriate medical and surgical interventions are avoided by the IISM professionals, and continue to produce desirable results in the same field through optimal exercise intervention.”

“The idea of sports medicine has changed in the last 30 years,” believes Sujatha Pugazhendi, managing trustee, IISM. “A few years ago, people assumed that only sports-related injuries would warrant a visit to a doctor specialising in sports medicine. Today, due to awareness, people understand that sports medical practitioners cater to everyone — anyone who is engaged in any physical activity can visit such practitioners and find a solution to problems.”

Multiple options

In 2015, Dr. MGR Janaki University, perhaps, realised the importance of the field, and approached Dr. Kannan and team to introduce a sports medicine programme. Consequently, in 2016, the first course — B.Sc fitness and lifestyle modification — was launched. “While designing the syllabus, we kept in mind that when a person graduates from this programme, he/she must be knowledgeable about various aspects of fitness, worldwide, while knowing what would typically suit the Asian population. We wanted our graduates to customise solutions based on the individual needs of patients who approach them. They must also have a sound understanding of indigenous fitness activities such as kalaripayattu, yoga, dance fitness, and so on,” explains Sujatha.

The three-year course is a healthy mix of theory and practice. Some of the subjects include Anatomy and physiology, Exercise physiology and fitness assessment, Psychology and lifestyle modification, Strength and conditioning for fitness, Kalari and martial arts for fitness and lifestyle modification, among others.

There are also interesting choices for postgraduate courses that IISM offers, These include M.Sc Sports and fitness psychology and M.Sc Sports and fitness nutrition.

The two-year M.Sc sports and fitness psychology course is challenging, as Sujatha believes that adherence to fitness is so poor that there is a need to understand fitness psychology. “In fact, such psychologists have more work than regular psychologists, as it is a herculean task to make people realise that they need to be fit. It is the same case with sports psychology — it involves counsellors convincing patients to get back into sports, back into action, rather than taking it easy. This is starkly different from regular psychology where, in most cases, rest will be prescribed to patients in the course of their treatment. The former involves motivating patients to get back into the action proactively,” she explains.

This course too involves some theory, while emphasis is given to practical knowledge. Theory includes Exercise physiology for sports and fitness, Psychobiology for fitness and lifestyle modification and Medical ethics, so on. “When it comes to the practicals, we put our students on to our patients, and they are asked to design a counselling plan, which will be evaluated by the psychologist in charge. Students also have to create case studies and come up with relevant solutions. They indulge in role plays to understand patients’ perspectives. They also have what is called dance movement therapy where one can express emotions and feelings through physical activity. These emotions are picked up by our students who then counsel clients,” she adds.

The two-year M.Sc sports and fitness course is equally vibrant. Students get to study a wide range of subjects such as exercise physiology for sports and fitness, sports nutrition for performance excellence, fitness nutrition for lifestyle modification, and so on. As for the practical part, they will have design diet charts for clients that will show their understanding of how nutrition works. They will work under doctors and therapists to further nuance their learning.


On graduating, students can work in gyms, at sports medicine centres, hospitals, sports teams, with dancers, martial artists, in counselling, research, and so on. Starting salary is around ₹6 to 7 lakhs per annum, with a higher margin if they work as freelancers.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 10:43:07 AM |

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