What Is Health Coaching? 12 Benefits & Principles Explained

What is health coachingStress levels in modern society are super high, and that is no secret.

Many people struggle to cope with life’s demands and inadvertently develop bad lifestyle habits that affect their health.

People are also searching for happiness and looking for ways to improve their lives. With the world’s population aging (Bloom & Luca, 2016), the growing demands of modern life require an overall improvement to health.

There is uncertainty on how to redress this imbalance, lead a healthier lifestyle, and disengage from bad habits. It sounds so simple, yet it can be very difficult without proper guidance and support.

This is exactly where a health coach can have a profound impact.

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What Is Holistic Health Coaching?

Health coaching works by giving people the confidence, knowledge, and skills to become active participants in their own care and achieve their self-identified health goals (Better Conversation, n.d.).

Holistic health coaching uses an integrative approach to diet and lifestyle changes to improve the client’s health (Palmer, Tubbs, & Whybrow, 2003). The aim is to guide individuals toward an overall healthier life. The practice of health education within a coaching framework and context enhances wellbeing and facilitates the realization of health-related goals (Palmer et al., 2003).

Holistic coaching examines the larger picture of the client’s life to focus on areas that require self-improvement, and it views the mind, body, and spirit as one. It does not focus on a specific desired outcome. Instead, many interrelated issues are addressed that affect poor health or are connected to health to achieve long-term results (Better Conversation, n.d.).

If a client wants to focus on gaining a positive mindset, their stress levels and relationships with others may need to be examined. If another client wants to manage their body weight, their relationships with food, exercise, and even emotional wellbeing could be investigated.

Holistic health coaching looks at multiple facets (Lawson, 2013), including:

  • Nutrition
  • Physical fitness
  • Relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Leisure
  • Recreational activities

3 Real-Life Examples

Health Coaching ExamplesTo understand how health coaching works in real life, look at these fantastic examples.

1. Health coaching for doctors

Ahluwalia, de Silva, Kumar, Viney, and Chana (2013) studied 14 trainee doctors coming to the end of their medical training. The doctors took part in health coaching training over four months, and each doctor then tried out their health coaching skills with at least four patients. The doctors all described benefits from this training and considered their ability to empower patients, especially those with long-term health conditions, to be much better.

The patients receiving the health coaching reported the approach as beneficial. After a short follow-up, they saw significant changes, including weight loss, medication compliance, and smoking cessation. This pilot program showed that training doctors in health coaching is feasible and should form part of their training.

2. Learning healthy lifestyle habits through health coaching

Health and wellbeing coaching can be beneficial in weight reduction, especially for individuals who have previously struggled to lose weight because of obstacles limiting their weight-loss ability.

Stelter (2015) undertook a case study incorporating 10 coaching sessions with a client over 17 months, focusing on weight loss. The client was a well-educated woman in her late 30s. She had tried many diet regimes over the years, but they had little or no impact on her weight loss.

The coach also incorporated a whole life perspective to allow the client to learn to link specific habits in everyday life to bad eating habits. After one and a half years of coaching, the client was ‘12 kilograms lighter’ as she described it, rather than losing 12 kilograms. She also established a normal relationship with food.

The client developed mindful eating in everyday life, gaining healthy eating habits and occasionally allowing herself to eat (sometimes unhealthy) foods she enjoyed. In addition, the client discovered achievable exercise habits.

This study showed how a health coaching intervention for weight reduction can be very effective. The client was ready for change, and was supported and encouraged by her health coach, which motivated her to show commitment.

3. Health coaching organization leaders

Yocum and Lawson (2019) undertook a health and wellness group coaching case study in the United States. The study supported health and wellness coaching in optimizing employee wellbeing.

Group health and wellness coaching was offered to organization leaders to manage stress and cultivate holistic wellbeing. The facilitators conducted one-on-one interviews with the participants before the initial group meeting. The cohort included six women and two men, all managers and leaders in stressful roles.

The facilitators incorporated strategies for stress management, improving lifestyle choices, and overall health and wellbeing, with a focus on raising awareness of current health and wellbeing and exploring perceptions.

The study showed that leaders were able to gain self-awareness through a holistic approach to health and wellness. They understood the importance of self-care and stress management, created SMART goals, experimented with action steps, and addressed obstacles to their health. This case study supports the importance of health coaching as a positive intervention to foster the wellbeing of managers and leaders.

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3 Benefits According to Research

Health coaching has been shown to work well with many populations and in many different ways.

1. Health coaching supports decision-making

Thom et al. (2016) undertook a qualitative study of health coaches supporting patients in decision-making and implementing changes to improve their health. Focus groups and individual interviews were conducted with patients, friends, family members, health coaches, and clinicians.

The positives of health coaching highlighted in the study included working with clinicians to support their patients in identifying and asking questions of the clinician, keeping the patient motivated between visits, and reducing the patient’s fear and anxiety around appointments. For more on how to assist clients with that, read our article Coaching for Anxiety, which includes podcasts and useful techniques.

Coaches worked with patients to identify options, create plans, overcome barriers, locate resources, and provide reminders. In providing this support, clinicians enabled patients to make a broader range of choices. Although coaches pointed out options and made suggestions, essentially, the choice was the patient’s own.

2. Health coaching supports hypertensive patients

Singh, Kennedy, and Stupans’s (2021) found that poorly controlled hypertension was better managed by health coaching.

Pharmacists trained in health coaching provided monthly sessions of 15 to 30 minutes to an intervention group of participants for three months. Participants were educated about hypertension, associated complications, treatment options, and clinical targets to improve their knowledge and attitudes about hypertension.

The three health coaching sessions included recording current blood pressure and comparing it to the previous month. In addition, diet, exercise, and medication adherence goals from the last month were discussed, and participants set goals for blood pressure, diet, exercise, and medication compliance for the month ahead.

In this study, pharmacists were able to facilitate a positive behavior change in patients. The study shows how health coaching training for pharmacists can help improve the management of chronic health conditions.

3. Health coaching supports diabetes

Chen et al. (2019) investigated a six-month coaching intervention looking at the effectiveness in lowering HbA1c and increasing self-efficacy of diabetes management.

A coaching intervention study involved 116 participants with Type-2 diabetes. The intervention group received health coaching and usual care for six months, and the control group had routine care only. The primary outcome variables were HbA1c level and self-efficacy of diabetes management, followed up at three and six months.

The intervention group achieved a reduction in HbA1c after six months of health coaching. Physical activity and self-efficacy of diabetes management also benefited from health coaching.

This study showed that health coaching can be an effective strategy for patients managing diabetes.

The Principles of Health Coaching

Principles of health coachingHealth coaching has a few common principles.

The following are loosely adapted from Olsen (2014).

  • To have a purpose and to improve the health and wellness of clients.
  • A belief that people are resourceful and have self-management abilities.
  • To form an active partnership with the client.
  • To focus on the benefit of the client by providing a personalized approach.
  • Setting goals for the client based on their preferences rather than those of professionals.
  • Helping people assess the point they are at and see how to move forward through taking action.
  • To improve insight through health education, reflection, identifying client barriers, and strategies of self-awareness.
  • Allowing the client to feel empowered as a consequence of health coaching.
  • To build skills from lived experience and or skills learned from the coach.

What is a health coach (and is it a good career)? – Kim Foster

4 Models & Theories of Health Coaching

It is essential to recognize and understand some of the coaching models and theories that underpin health coaching. This will allow the full understanding of how behaviors can be changed to form healthier habits and promote a healthy lifestyle for the long term.

1. The trans-theoretical model of change

Changing negative health behaviors to positive ones does not happen overnight. The trans-theoretical model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983) is based on the cyclical nature of change rather than a one-stage process. It can take many months. There are certain features of this cycle, such as motivation, commitment, and maintenance, as a person moves through the different stages of the cycle.

  • Pre-contemplation
    This is the stage when the client is ignoring their health challenge and does not consider that it applies to them.
  • Contemplation
    This is the point at which the client may see a benefit arising from making a change.
  • Preparation
    At this stage, the client has decided to change their behavior for the better through action.
  • Action
    This is the point when clients start to get their act together.
  • Maintenance
    This stage is the continuation of the action stage. Clients keep up the changes they have made and integrate these into their lives. However, in this stage, it is easy to relapse, and it is essential to motivate clients and support them through the maintenance stage.

2. Solution-focused model

The solution-focused model of coaching is outcome oriented (O’Connell & Palmer, 2019). This model encourages clients to take personal responsibility for their future actions and directs them toward a specific goal, using their individual strengths to their best ability. These often consider SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound; Neenan & Dryden, 2002).

A goal such as wanting to improve physical fitness by being able to complete 10 push-ups in three months meets all the parameters of a SMART goal.

Peterson and Seligman (2004) found that an optimistic approach, such as that used in goal setting, can produce a more desirable outcome in emotional and physical wellbeing.

3. Social cognitive theory

Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory (SCT) identified the four types of behaviors worthy of imitation. The idea is that when an individual watches behavior that has good or bad consequences, they will use that information to guide their own behavior. It may also recommend they make changes to their own behavior.

The seven key components of SCT are:

  1. Self-efficacy is the belief that a person has the control to execute their behavior. If clients are confident about making a health behavior change, they are more likely to do it. Setting small achievable goals with clients is worthwhile.
  2. Behavioral capability is the understanding and skill to perform the behavior. Demonstrating the behaviors to clients works better than writing down instructions for them.
  3. Expectations determine the outcome of the behavior change by setting realistic goals.
  4. Expectancies are about assigning a value to the outcome of the behavior change.
  5. Self-control is about regulating and monitoring individual behavior.
  6. Observational learning relates to watching and observing the outcomes of others modeling and performing the desired behavior. This can be done through the coach being the role model for the client.
  7. Reinforcements are about promoting incentives and rewards to encourage behavior change, such as buying a new outfit when weight loss has been achieved or a new pair of sneakers when physical fitness has been achieved.

4. Motivational interviewing theory

This theory is focused on a collaborative, client-centered way of working. The focus is on increasing the coachee’s intrinsic motivation for behavioral change.

Motivational interviewing is a method of communicating and encouraging the client to talk.

“Motivational interviewing is a collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change.”

Miller and Rollnick, 2009, p. 137

There are five basic principles of motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 1991):

  1. To express empathy through listening reflectively.
  2. To develop a discrepancy between the client’s goals and values and present behavior.
  3. To avoid confrontation and direct argument.
  4. To adjust to the client’s level of resistance and not oppose them directly.
  5. To support optimism and self-efficacy.

A Look at Yoga Health Coaching

Yoga health coachingYoga involves movement, meditation, and breathing exercises that are meant to promote mental and physical wellbeing.

A yoga health coach can help with the struggles in achieving wellness goals. They can work similarly to a holistic health coach by creating a plan and helping the client keep on track by setting goals in what they want to achieve (Cartwright, Mason, Porter, & Pilkington, 2020).

A yoga health coach may focus on diet, food, and nutrition needs; helping to fine-tune movement and exercise routines; and managing stress.

A yoga health coach can make it easier to attain fitness and health goals by encouraging healthy habits for the long term, such as improving diet, losing weight, improving sleep, strengthening digestion, stabilizing emotions, activating intuition, and boosting the immune system and energy (Cartwright et al., 2020).

Adjusting to healthy behavior habits can be difficult, but encouragement from a yoga health coach can make the change much easier.

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Resources From PositivePsychology.com

PositivePsychology.com has plenty of resources that can be used to assist your clients in achieving positive health.

  • 5 Best Wellness & Health Coaching Certification Programs
    A wonderful guide for any person keen to become a health coach by obtaining health coach certification.
  • 18 Motivational Interviewing Worksheets, Examples, and Techniques
    This excellent article shows how motivational interviewing can be put into practice by creating health-related behavior change with different strategies. The post has a plethora of tips, worksheets, and ideas for group coaching sessions and popular techniques.
  • The Complete Life Navigation Masterclass Series
    Take a look at our Life Navigation Masterclass Series. This is a certified program of masterclasses that can help you teach others how to manage their different life domains of family, work, and recreation and gain a holistic approach to improving their health. There are several exercise tools to create a balanced life.
  • Changing Physical Habits
    As you have learned through this article, health coaching often involves changing unhealthy habits. This exercise helps the client understand their current practices, explore how they feel about them, and change them to make themselves happier.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others discover meaning, check out this collection of 17 validated meaning tools for practitioners. Use them to help others choose directions for their lives in alignment with what is truly important to them.

A Take-Home Message

Simply imparting information to clients is unlikely to change their behavior. There is a need to understand the psychological principles that lie beneath self-management of health behaviors and clients’ motivation.

The health coaching approach to behavior change works effectively with clients, where each person is guided by an individual plan designed to develop and implement sustainable strategies to achieve overall wellness and health in their life.

These strategies can include exercise, nutrition, and spirituality, and encompass relationships, work, and family life. Through working with the person’s strengths and values to achieve goals, more sustainable plans for long-term wellness can be achieved, rather than a passive one-size-fits-all approach to health change.

We hope this article has been enlightening and that you have learned more about the benefits of health coaching, theories, models, and real-life examples. An option worth considering is yoga health coaching, and you may wish to pursue this as a line of work with your clients.

We trust you will be more confident in optimizing your client’s resources to enable them to plan and set realistic health goals to maintain healthy behaviors for life.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free.


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  • Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.
  • Better Conversation. (n.d.). Better conversation: A guide to health coaching. Retrieved September 15, 2021, from https://www.betterconversation.co.uk.
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  • Chen, R. Y., Huang, L. I., Su, C. T., Chang, Y. T., Chu, C. L., Chang, C. L., & Lin, C. L (2019). Effectiveness of short-term health coaching on diabetes control and self-management efficacy: A quasi-experimental trial. Frontiers in Public Health, 7, 314.
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  • Neenan, M., & Dryden, W. (2002). Life coaching: A cognitive-behavioural approach. Routledge.
  • O’Connell, B., & Palmer, S. (2019). Solution-focused coaching. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (2nd ed.) Routledge.
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  • Singh, H. K., Kennedy, G. A., & Stupans, I. (2021). A pharmacist health coaching trial evaluating behavioural changes in participants with poorly controlled hypertension. BMC Family Practice, 22, 35.
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What our readers think

  1. Katrina

    Great article was very helpful in how you laid out the information
    As Health coach and someone who graduated INN appreciate the work.

    • Saima Latif, Ph.D.

      Thankyou Katrina,
      so glad you enjoyed this article and the layout of the information assisted you.
      We hope you enjoy many other articles on our website too related to health coaching.

      Best Wishes


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