American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Chronic diseases, also referred to as noncommunicable diseases, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes affect six in ten Americans. These diseases are the leading cause of early mortality and disability, and chronic disease are a primary driver of healthcare costs.

As part of National Public Health Week (April 1-7, 2019), ACE Certified Health Coach, Lee Jordan, talks about his experience on the frontlines of the noncommunicable disease epidemic and how health coaches are an essential part of the solution.

1. For those who may not know, what is a health coach and what do they do?

Health coaches partner with clients with the goal of helping them establish evidence-based, health-promoting behaviors. Using specific and evidence-supported skills to facilitate and enhance a client’s strengths and autonomy, health coaches act as a guide in their client’s pursuit of self-determined goals.

2. What kind of tools do you use to help elicit change with clients you work with? 

My greatest tool as a health coach is understanding that I cannot change people, and that people can only change themselves. To me, this means “I” don’t lead them to their health and wellness goals despite my knowledge and expertise. Instead, I focus on my ability to evoke, unlock and unleash the unique power living inside them.

The tools I have found to be the most valuable to draw out a client’s internal unique power in pursuit of their goals include OARS and other tenants of Motivational Interviewing.

3. How do you think health coaches can help combat chronic disease/noncommunicable diseases? 

Unlike communicable disease which can be prevented with vaccines and treated with modern medicine, chronic disease presents a fundamentally different challenge and requires a radically different solution. Chronic diseases are largely precipitated by lifestyle choice and cannot be resolved with a shot or pill. This is not new information, and in 2016, the National Academy of Medicine identified inactivity, smoking, and poor diet as major contributors to the rates of chronic disease in the United States

Lifestyle changes, supported by health coaches, could be the answer. Changing lifestyle behaviors is complex and multifaceted work. Health coaches have a role to play because they possess the skills and toolkit to facilitate the adoption of more sustainable preventive behavior.

4. A lot of work as a health coach is on a one-on-one basis, but do you see any larger impacts?

A great joy of health coaching is seeing an entire family develop and embrace a healthy way of living because one member chose to make an initial change. Families are teams and positive healthy change by one is powerful and contagious. 

5. How could health coaches be utilized in the future to make an even greater impact on population health? 

A large-scale 2018 study of more than 100,000 participants found that adopting five healthy lifestyle habits lowered the risk for dying of cardiovascular disease by 82%, lowered the chance of dying from cancer by 65%, and lowered the risk of dying from all causes by 74%. The main takeaway from this study was that we need to put into practice what we already know—that lifestyle change is difficult, but when supported by an expert who possess evidence-based tools to help facilitate these changes, it is possible to achieve.

As awareness grows of the undeniable effectiveness of lifestyle and behavior change, as facilitated by health coaches, our future will be increasingly focused on the deployment of health coaches into settings where they can make impact. The future of health coaching will be working as a part of a multidisciplinary team, and in private practice, facilitating and enhancing an individual’s ability to enact sustainable change.