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Life Coach vs Health Coach: What’s the Difference?

by: Sara Gustafson
Published: June 2, 2016
Updated: June 23, 2022

Coaching chalkboard

A coach is someone who uses their knowledge to motivate others in developing skills in many areas of life, be it health, fitness, emotional or spiritual evolvement. Coaches take on the role of a leader who helps to set goals in any kind of walk through life. Coaches are there to guide, motivate, encourage and teach. The goal of any coach is to empower their clients with enough knowledge and skill development that they are eventually confident enough to do it on their own. This doesn’t mean that any person can hire a coach for a month, see them four times and then be able to apply a trunk full of magical wisdom that sets them up for life. Some coaching takes more time depending on the individual, their goals, and their specific challenges. Whether you are a life coach or a health coach, it’s important to meet your client where they are. And if you are a client, it’s very crucial to let your coach know where you are.

Life Coaching

This area focuses on personal growth in the more intimate areas of a person’s life such as love, relationships, social life, career and finances, parenting and family, as well as personal and spiritual growth. It can include health and wellness also, as it’s important to incorporate one’s health into all areas of their life, rather than compartmentalize each thing.

Life coaches help to identify a person’s passion and purpose in order to create an awareness around what drives that individual so that goal-setting can be personalized. There is a focus on, in short, personal and professional goals.

Though many similar skills and applications are used in both life and health coaching, they remain separate professions with neither being a subset of the other. Life coaching, however, may incorporate areas of focus representative of health coaching, such as teaching stress management tools and implying the importance of healthy habits like diet, nutrition, exercise and sleep. They can overlap, but keep in mind that life coaching is strictly for personal and professional goals.

Who uses a life coach?

In 2009, the Chartered Institute of Personal Development did a study and found that 90% of the organizations surveyed used professional life coaches to help organize and set goals for management teams and other departments. Prior to my life in the health and fitness industry, I worked in venture capital and best practice consulting amidst the hustle that is Washington, D.C. During my time there, I learned that successful entrepreneurs, politicians and executives aren’t just lucky, or mysteriously that much smarter than everyone else. They often used life coaches, and many of them had full-time coaches hired on their teams working with them every day to adapt to growth and change in their respective industries and professions. I used to have a stigma driven opinion about life coaches until I learned just how important, and legit, their job is.

According to the Manchester Consulting Group, who performed a survey, life coaching provided an ROI (return on investment) of nearly six times more than the coaching program cost. Municipal organizations such as police departments, for example, can have an old school and militant approach to structure, and when society changes it’s hard for even the smartest and most experienced leaders to adapt to that change even though it is necessary to grow and evolve their organizations. The same applies to the teams and employees that are driving and creating the changes within the structure. Life coaches can be an integral part of helping professionals step outside of the box and expand their thinking.

Health Coaching

Aligning the factors that affect a person’s health is the foundation of health coaching. Such factors include mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and environmental influences. Each of these make up the elements in designing a mindful approach with clients and patients so as to bring balance and alignment by integrating each with the next. This is health coaching.

All factors that influence a person’s health are nurtured and worked through to help individuals change the personal behaviors centered around these areas of their life. Health coaches address the lifestyle habits of the patient by taking a careful examination of that person’s health and conditions which may have been the result of poor habits and lack of integration in lifestyle. Many sufferers of chronic disease and/or pain are unaware that their own behaviors are leading to the manifestation of poor health and need help getting back to a good baseline.

Who uses a health coach?

Every person, whether an elite athlete or chronic disease sufferer, younger or older, male or female requires an individualized approach to their health management. Some athletes need a health coach to help them manage a nutrient balance in their high demand so that they can advance their performances. Some people need a health coach to guide them through needed lifestyle changes after a new diagnosis, such as Type 2 Diabetes. For example, in a study looking at the relationship between health coaches and low-income patients with Type 2 Diabetes, they discovered that the patients who received additional support from a health coach reduced their HbA1c levels by 1.07% verses o.3% in those who only received care from their primary physician upon diagnosis and follow-up.

Health coaches work to fill in the gaps of physician-patient care and follow through. Most general practitioners are only equipped, time-wise, to diagnose and offer simple advice while writing out a prescription. That won’t cut the mustard for those who really need to make lifestyle changes. Because physicians do not have the time to work with their patients on nutrition and lifestyle factors that affect their health, they are finding higher patient success rates by referring out to health coaches. According to Melinda Huffman, principal at Miller & Huffman Outcome Architects and co-founder of the Notational Society of Health Coaches, “…demand for health coaches has grown exponentially, largely because research has found it’s more effective to discuss a treatment plan with a patient than to simply prescribe a medicine and hope that they take it.” But patients aren’t the only ones reaching out to health coaches.

Anyone who needs help adjusting or changing their behaviors centered around lifestyle choices benefits from health coaching and this is why the profession is making a huge movement into the private sector. From professional athletes to hobbyists, children with food allergies to adults with autoimmune disease, and simply those needing healthy changes made in their lives, health coaches are the experts to motivate and empower these individuals through each adaptation, and design goals that are tailored to each individual person.

Health coaching and life coaching can overlap in many ways. Though each has it’s own niche, health coaches often find themselves working to bring balance in the client’s personal life by way of addressing stress, then classifying each stressor to begin working on reduction and management techniques. Stress management connects the two forms of coaching because it’s critical to manage your stress levels in order to manage and maintain health and fitness goals, as well as personal and professional goals.

By example, a person who wants to set very specific career goals may be told by their life coach that their health needs to be a priority because they will need extra energy, mental focus and clarity. And if this person is very ill, drinks a lot, doesn’t sleep well and is taking many medications to manage pain, then one of two things will happen. One, they may work harder but become sicker. Or two, they will become too sick to manage themselves and not be able to meet their life goals.

Life coaches, however, are not experts in the areas of health and fitness and are not qualified to give real dietary and exercise advice. Aleksandr Rybchinskiy, a Neurosomatic Therapist and Holistic Health Coach from Chicago, says, “More times than not I am integrating a lot of the issues a life coach would focus on into my health coaching because it’s too hard to find success when you compartmentalize everything and separate each and every area of your life.” He continues, “the easiest way to find success for my health coaching clients is to teach them how to integrate the same motivations, values and passion across all areas of their life. Get healthy by eating an organic, primal diet and exercising in ways you enjoy so you can have energy with sharp mental focus and get that promotion—which will give you financial freedom, which will help with your stress levels, which will allow you to be present, which creates more happiness, which motivates you to keep doing everything that which makes you healthy. The end. That’s what I do.”

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