What Is a Health Coach?

Health coach helping client at a gym
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If you’re having trouble making healthy habits stick, teaming up with a health coach could be a life-changer. Using motivation and a unique combination of skills to facilitate behavior change, health coaches empower their clients to achieve wellness.

One of the main principles of health coaching is the notion that everyone faces specific challenges when it comes to keeping healthy. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, health coaches help clients create highly personalized strategies for achieving their goals.

Some people seek out a health coach for weight loss support, while others strive toward goals like increasing their energy or improving their heart health. In addition, patients sometimes turn to health coaches for help in changing habits to better control chronic conditions.

With health coaching becoming more widely practiced, a number of recent studies have shown that working with a coach may be helpful in managing such problems as diabetes and obesity, too.

Health Coaches vs. Life Coaches

It’s important to note the difference between a health coach and a life coach. Although life coaches may address a variety of issues known to impact your health (such as your stress levels and work-life balance), they’re generally focused on helping clients fulfill certain goals within their careers, relationships, and overall lives.

In some cases, health coaches are referred to as “wellness coaches,” “integrative health coaches,” or “health and wellness coaches.”

The Key Benefits of Health Coaching

For people looking to make positive changes and enhance their wellbeing, health coaches can provide more in-depth and individualized guidance than what is typically available through standard healthcare. To that end, health coaches frequently help their clients implement doctor-recommended changes to their diet and lifestyle and, in turn, protect against major health issues.

Along with experiencing improvements to their health, many clients find that working with a health coach helps to sharpen their decision-making skills, increase their self-awareness, and boost their confidence.

In the end, the goal of health coaching is to empower each client to take charge of their health. As they strengthen their sense of agency, clients often feel more capable of making healthy choices in the everyday and navigating obstacles in the long run.

How Does Health Coaching Work? 

Health coaches work to zero in on your singular strengths, then help you to engage those strengths in order to reach your health goals. At the same time, health coaches identify your greatest areas of struggle and provide the support needed to overcome those struggles.

Because health coaching forgoes quick fixes and emphasizes sustainable change, it typically involves making small, incremental adjustments to your lifestyle. For many clients, health coaching entails testing out different types of approaches to eating and exercising so that each client can find the approach that works best.

Since health coaches often view health in a holistic context, it’s likely that your coach will take such factors as your career, relationships, and other key elements of your lifestyle into account as they guide you to greater health.

Working With a Health Coach to Manage a Chronic Condition

As health coaching becomes more common, a growing number of doctors are connecting their patients with health coaches as part of their treatment plan for such conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

In a study published in Preventing Chronic Disease in 2013, for instance, researchers stated that “health coaching is a promising strategy for helping patients make behavior modifications that can prevent or manage diabetes and other chronic conditions.” The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

What You Need to Know Before Working With a Health Coach

Before you begin working with a health coach, keep in mind that health coaches can’t diagnose or treat any type of health condition, nor should they replace care by licensed health care professionals. If you’re concerned about a health problem, consult your primary care provider rather than a health coach. 

If you’re thinking of working with a health coach, make sure to find a coach with proper training and certification. Colleges and universities across the U.S. now offer health coaching certification programs, and many of these institutions can help connect you with a coach.

While health coaches often have private practices, some coaches work in clinical settings, spas, gyms, or health clubs. Sessions with your coach may take place in person, over the phone, or via video conferencing. Many health coaches work one-on-one with clients, but others hold sessions involving a small group of clients with similar health goals. Regardless of where the session takes place, make sure you choose a coach that's a good fit for you and get the most out of your sessions.

Sources:

Adams SR, Goler NC, Sanna RS, et al. Patient satisfaction and perceived success with a telephonic health coaching program: the Natural Experiments for Translation in Diabetes (NEXT-D) Study, Northern California, 2011. Prev Chronic Dis. 2013 Oct 31;10:E179. 

Kivelä K, Elo S, Kyngäs H, Kääriäinen M. The effects of health coaching on adult patients with chronic diseases: a systematic review. Patient Educ Couns. 2014 Nov;97(2):147-57. 

Olsen JM, Nesbitt BJ. Health coaching to improve healthy lifestyle behaviors: an integrative review. Am J Health Promot. 2010 Sep-Oct;25(1):e1-e12.

Schmittdiel JA, Adams SR, Goler N, et al. The impact of telephonic wellness coaching on weight loss: A "Natural Experiments for Translation in Diabetes (NEXT-D)" study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017 Feb;25(2):352-356. 

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