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What is a Health Coach?

New year, new you. Easier said than done, right? Especially when it comes to our health. It’s why many people seek the help of a health coach. But what does a health coach do? And how can they help you? We asked Danielle Repko, BS, an ACE-certified health coach at OhioHealth Group, for the answers.

What does a health coach do?

A health coach uses a holistic approach to health and wellness to help you establish realistic, obtainable goals, set strategies to attain those goals and manage barriers that make it harder to reach your goals. They keep you focused on progress, not setbacks, and provide motivational support, too, just like your family and friends cheer you on when working towards a degree, says Repko.

“My ultimate goal is to equip a patient with strategies to self-manage their behavior long-term. And for some patients, certain barriers aren’t going to go away. Instead of telling a person to work around or through a challenge, I like to focus on how they can work with it and still reach their goals.”

Health coaches break down your goals into manageable lifestyle changes that you can work toward daily, weekly and monthly. Repko says six to 12 months is the most time the average person needs to consistently meet with a health coach before changes become habit, but if you begin to struggle or plateau, a touch base to reenergize and set new goals may help.

Who is a good candidate for health coaching?

Anyone who wants to improve their health! But for health coaching to be effective, you need to be ready to make lifestyle changes.

“Some people know they need to lose weight because their physician told them that, but they’re not yet mentally committed. Or maybe the timing just isn’t right. For example, you might have the best intentions, but if you’re in the middle of a renovation and can only manage takeout most nights, then you may consider waiting to pursue your weight loss goal and instead focus on stress reduction, time management or getting enough sleep,” says Repko.

Your health coach will use your initial consultation to assess your goals and determine your readiness.

Working with a health coach isn’t limited to achieving fitness or nutritional goals, either. Maybe you’re already in good physical shape, but want to stop smoking or have trouble sleeping. A health coach can provide guidance to enhance your health in many areas.

How is a health coach different than my physician or other members of my healthcare team?

A health coach cannot prescribe medications, diets or make a diagnosis. They may, however, suggest that you speak to clinical professionals. For example, your health coach may recommend that you speak to a pharmacist who can explain how your medications influence your weight. When possible, your health coach should also work in tandem with your physician and the rest of your healthcare team to support their goals for your health.

What makes a good health coach?

Many people call themselves “coaches,” but do not have credentials to back it up. Repko recommends selecting a health coach who has a degree or experience in a health-related field, like nursing, exercise physiology or nutrition, and also has a health coach certification.

How can I find a health coach?

Recent studies on the effects of health coaching have demonstrated cost savings for employers and better health outcomes for patients. As a result, many employers now offer health coaches to their employees as part of their benefits package – yours might, too!

Fitness centers and physician practices are also beginning to employ health coaches. Or, you can visit a health coach in private practice through a recommendation from your physician, or by searching for one on your own.

Health coaching is not always covered by medical insurance, but Repko says it’s important to consider how achieving long-term health goals may offset other medical costs, like copays for medications and physician office visits.

One final piece of advice

If you think a health coach might be able to help you, don’t let your fears of failure hold you back.

“We’re not perfect, either,” says Repko. “Many of the best health coaches out there have overcome challenges similar to yours and they want to help you do the same. You’ll build a judgment-free partnership that empowers you to achieve what you set out to do. Everyone can benefit from that.”

Want to get a head start on your own? Follow these 8 easy steps to help you achieve your health goals.