Everyone knows the basics of healthy living. Eat a balanced diet. Exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Not long ago, if you needed more guidance than that, you had to find an expert (books, physicians, etc.). They were the only ones with the tools and knowledge to help you. This was okay for people who had the time and resources to seek out that expertise but for most people it was a huge barrier. And when we’re looking to make changes in our behavior, barriers strip us of motivation.
Flash forward to the current day and we have a convergence of technologies that addresses some significant obstacles. These include:
- Wearable Fitness Technology – Wristbands, watches, pendants, eyeglasses, and even clothing that can sense steps taken, quality of sleep, heart rate, and more.
- Smartphone Apps – For detailed tracking of exercise, food and nutrients consumed, blood sugar level, etc.
- Online Services – That were formerly only available to professionals such as genome testing, full lab panels and microbiome (gut bacteria) testing.
- Internet of Things – Infrastructure that allows these technologies to talk with one another. Step on your scale and it updates the food diary on your smartphone tracker app with your weight.
The age of autonomy is here. No longer must we depend on experts to know where we stand health-wise. But is that enough? Apparently not. As noted in a previous post on this site, Rethink Wearable Tech…Fad or Future, despite the growing popularity of devices like Wearable Fitness Trackers, many people stop using them only a short time after they get them.
You see, technology hasn’t figured out when you need space and when you need a little nudge. It’s not very good at helping you explore why you’re stuck or why you sometimes regress. It does a bad job at changing and adapting with you. And, it doesn’t know how to link your goals for good health to your vision, your values. Technology is just clueless about motivation and accountability.
Enter the Health Coach. Health Coaches are the latest member of your wellness team. Unlike physicians whose role is to diagnose and prescribe, Health Coaches help you make the changes you want to make by stoking the fire you have within. And unlike Nutrition Counselors or Personal Trainers who hand over wellness plans and monitor compliance, Health Coaches partner with you to uncover the strategies that honor your values and lifestyle. They work with you to keep you accountable.
Health Coaches are experts in human behavioral change. They recognize that family, physicians, and employers may influence positive changes in health, but the real inspiration to move towards wellness has to come from you. Health coaches use a process that surfaces what is most important to you and links those values to the healthy behaviors and goals that matter most. This is where motivation comes from.
As you progress, your coach helps you create a plan to reach those goals. The emphasis on you is critical. The plan can’t be some cookie cutter nutrition or exercise program that the coach pulls from some file. It must be a customized plan that strikes a balance between flexibility, because “stuff happens,” and specificity so you can link your plan to your progress. Without a tailored plan, it’s difficult to hold yourself accountable.
Health Coaching is a new field. Research on its impact is just emerging but initial results are encouraging. These include:
- Patients with poor cardiovascular health who undergo health coaching show improvements in total cholesterol and BMI, lower stress, more physical activity, better nutrition, and reduced smoking.
- Cancer patients who work with health coaches demonstrate better pain control.
- Health coaches help obese patients decrease their waist circumference and improve their functional health.
- Diabetes and kidney patients who engage with health coaches experience decreases in fasting blood glucose levels?, hemoglobin A1C, hospital admission rates, and amputations.
And all of these studies took place prior to and without the benefit of the technologies mentioned earlier. When we combine the ability for technology to collect data in a transparent way with the skills and knowledge of a professionally trained Health Coach, some magic starts to happen. Health Coaches know you as a person and can figure out when you need space and when you need a little nudge. Health Coaches excel at helping people explore why they’re stuck or why they sometimes regress. Health Coaches understand that wellness goals must change and adapt as you change and adapt. And Health coaches know how to link your goals for good health to your vision, your values.
Technology provides you autonomy. Health Coaches honor that autonomy, inspire motivation, and maximize accountability. And this combination results in a happy, healthy, and productive life.