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From Knowledge to Action: The Transformative Power of Health Coaching for Sustainable Health Habits

In a previous article outlining my fitness journey, I discussed the challenge of bridging the 'knowledge-action gap' when it comes to making lifestyle changes such as improving diet, increasing physical activity, reducing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. I posed the question: why do many individuals know what changes they need to make, yet struggle to do so consistently and sustainably?

While acknowledging that it's not an identical comparison, I'd like to draw a parallel between the challenge of encouraging individuals with high blood pressure to consistently take their medication and the difficulty of making lifestyle changes. While taking a pill may seem like an easy solution, it's surprising to learn that a significant percentage (43-65.5%) of patients with high blood pressure struggle to follow their prescribed medication regimen. This suggests that even seemingly simple interventions can be complex, and that assuming knowledge translates into action overlooks the underlying behavioral issues that affect all types of behavior change.

Although I'm not a behavioral scientist or psychologist, my medical training introduced me to motivational interviewing, a tool used to address resistance to change, often in the context of smoking cessation or reducing alcohol consumption. As a physician invested in promoting healthy aging, I recognize that many strategies for promoting wellness require significant lifestyle changes, such as transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one or swapping ultra-processed foods for minimally processed, whole foods. It's important to recognize that knowledge alone does not always translate into action, as evidenced by the continued need for medical interventions to treat lifestyle-related conditions.

As a healthcare provider, I've learned some lessons from assumptions and judgements people have around motivation. Some examples of these include:

  1. Laziness: People may assume that those who lack motivation to make healthy changes are simply lazy or lack willpower.

  2. Lack of discipline: People may judge those who struggle with motivation as lacking discipline or self-control, assuming they are not committed enough to make the necessary changes.

  3. Personal failure: Some people may see a lack of motivation as a personal failure, assuming that those who struggle to make healthy changes are not good enough or don't care enough about their health.

  4. Lack of knowledge: Others may assume that a lack of motivation is due to a lack of knowledge or education about healthy habits, assuming that people simply don't know what they need to do to be healthy.

  5. Mental weakness: People may judge those who struggle with motivation as mentally weak, assuming that they are not strong enough to make the necessary changes.

  6. Lack of support: Some people may assume that a lack of motivation is due to a lack of support or resources, assuming that people don't have access to the tools they need to make healthy changes.

It's important to recognize that these assumptions and judgments are often unfounded and can be harmful. Lacking motivation to make healthy changes is a common struggle, and there are many factors that can contribute to this, including personal barriers, environmental factors, and emotional issues. It's important to approach the issue with empathy and understanding, and to seek support and resources to help overcome these challenges.

Motivation is an important factor in initiating behavior change, but it alone is insufficient for cultivating healthy habits for sustainable behavioral change. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Motivation can be fleeting: Motivation is often driven by external factors such as social pressure or short-term goals. Without a deeper internal drive and commitment to change, motivation can quickly dissipate, making it difficult to maintain healthy habits in the long term.

  2. Habits require consistent effort: Behavioral change requires consistent effort and repetition to create new habits. Motivation can help kickstart the process, but it's the consistent effort that sustains it.

  3. Environmental factors play a big role: Our environment can have a significant impact on our ability to maintain healthy habits. Even with high levels of motivation, it can be challenging to stick to healthy habits in an environment that doesn't support them. For example, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet if you're constantly surrounded by unhealthy food options.

  4. Personal barriers can hinder progress: Personal barriers, such as mental health issues or physical limitations, can hinder progress even for those with high levels of motivation. Without addressing these barriers, it can be challenging to maintain healthy habits over the long term.

  5. Sustainable change requires a holistic approach: Cultivating healthy habits requires more than just motivation; it requires a holistic approach that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of behavior change. This includes addressing underlying emotional issues, setting realistic goals, and developing a support system to help navigate challenges.

The Expertise of Health Coaches

How can we transition from motivation to lasting change? Although we may not have control over our surroundings, health coaches are equipped to help individuals overcome personal obstacles and acquire the necessary skills to establish new habits. It's important to recognize that forming habits is a skill that is not always common knowledge.

According to the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches, health coaching is defined as a collaborative partnership between coaches and clients who are seeking to improve their overall well-being by making self-directed, sustainable changes that align with their personal values. Throughout the coaching process, health and wellness coaches demonstrate unwavering positive regard for their clients and maintain a belief in their capacity for change, while respecting each client's unique expertise on their own life and upholding a non-judgmental and respectful approach in all interactions.

To ensure that you receive reliable guidance in your pursuit of health and wellness, I suggest conducting thorough research and working exclusively with accredited and recognized health coaches. It is regrettable that numerous individuals who claim to be health experts or coaches lack the necessary credentials, potentially offering advice beyond their scope of practice. To learn more about the significance of this issue and to discover various accreditations and recognitions for health coaches, please refer to this resource.

Health coaching skills can be acquired by licensed healthcare practitioners such as dietitians, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, nurses, medical doctors, and others. Incorporating these skills into their patient management approach often results in improved communication and interaction with patients, leading to greater job satisfaction for these professionals.

While there are many benefits to working with a health coach, it's worth noting that insurance providers usually do not cover this service. Therefore, deciding to invest in a health coach is a personal choice you'll need to make to prioritize your health. In my upcoming blog post, I'll explore why health insurance typically doesn't cover this service. It's essential to choose a health coach with the right credentials to ensure that you receive the most effective guidance and support in your health journey.

If you're looking for motivation or need help overcoming obstacles to making lifestyle changes, it may be worth considering teaming up with a health coach. To find a qualified health coach who can help you achieve your health and wellness goals, consult with a healthcare professional for a trusted recommendation.

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  1. Abegaz TM, Shehab A, Gebreyohannes EA, Bhagavathula AS, Elnour AA. Nonadherence to antihypertensive drugs: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017 Jan;96(4):e5641. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000005641. PMID: 28121920; PMCID: PMC5287944.


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