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Meeting Clients Where They Are

Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYT, wears many hats in the fitness industry, most notably through her work as an ACE expert, a media spokesperson and a fitness blogger. She also serves as an assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, where she teaches courses within the department of exercise science, health and nutrition. In addition to holding ACE Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach certifications, Matthews is an experienced yoga teacher, registered through Yoga Alliance. She has been featured as a fitness expert on CNN and in various publications, including Shape, Self and Oxygen magazines, and most recently appeared on the OWN Show, an exclusive digital series on Oprah.com. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and a master’s degree in physical education from Canisius College.

ACE: How do you see the obesity epidemic affecting our society—families, health care, workplaces—in the United States?

Jessica Matthews: In the United States, I see the obesity epidemic drastically diminishing the overall quality of life in our society, limiting people’s ability to remain self-sufficient and to care for themselves and their families. It also hinders Americans from engaging in leisure activities that could bring them immense joy and allow them to live fulfilling lives.

The rise in obesity has created severe financial strain on the nation and on individuals and families, with astronomical healthcare costs that leave many people unable to obtain the treatment and behavior change programs they desperately need. Additionally, the obesity epidemic has resulted in an unhealthy workforce and work culture in this country, in which many employees are physically and mentally unable to meet the demands of their chosen professions, and these workers are offered little to no support or incentive to improve their health and, subsequently, their productivity and job satisfaction.

ACE: What do you think positions ACE Certified Health Coaches and other fitness professionals to effectively guide people through the lifestyle changes necessary to overcome obesity?

Jessica Matthews: As an ACE Certified Health Coach and a practicing fitness professional for the last 15 years, I firmly believe that what best positions us to successfully guide individuals is our unique ability to understand and communicate with people in a meaningful way. The knowledge and skills I have gained as a certified professional in this field—such as motivational interviewing, understanding an individual’s readiness to change, enhanced communication skills and positive psychology—are the learned skills that I personally have seen offer the greatest impact in guiding individuals to overcome obesity and improve overall quality of life.

ACE: What elements do you believe a successful behavior change program incorporates?

Jessica Matthews: One of the most critical elements of a successful behavior change program is rapport. I frequently share this quote with my students and clients: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” [Theodore Roosevelt]. To me, this statement perfectly summarizes the notion that in a client-coach relationship meaningful human interaction is the real key to unlocking a client’s true potential for change. Without this critical foundation of trust, understanding and genuine connection, the client fails to ever feel truly vested in his or her own wellness journey. As result, the theoretical knowledge and practical strategies the health coach can offer simply become nothing more than additional items that individuals “know they should do” to enhance their health, but quite honestly are not emotionally invested in actively doing.

The most important aspect of health coaching is to empower clients to take ownership of their own experiences. I have found that when clients feel that they are understood, supported and motivated, their level of self-efficacy drastically improves.

ACE: In what ways do you feel health care, corporations and the fitness industry can work together more to provide quality behavior change options and exercise programs to the people who need them most?

Jessica Matthews: Collaboration is absolutely imperative in order to best support individuals and to create lasting, positive change in the health of our nation. One of the first steps to building a successful working relationship between healthcare providers, corporate leaders, and the health and fitness industry is to have open and honest dialogue about where gaps currently exist in the quality and accessibility of behavior change options. From there, we must collaboratively propose actionable solutions, which is where I think the health and fitness industry plays the most pivotal role.

In order to work more closely with healthcare providers and corporate leaders, it’s imperative that we as an industry educate our prospective partners on the knowledge, skills and services that health coaches and fitness professionals offer. We also need to demonstrate specific ways in which we can support healthcare providers and employers in terms of decreasing healthcare costs and enhancing the quality, accessibility and success of interventions that can result in a healthier, happier, more productive nation.

ACE: Where do you feel people need to be given access to behavior change alternatives? Why is it essential to meet people in those places?

Jessica Matthews: People should have access to behavior change solutions in a variety of capacities, including through their healthcare providers, at their places of employment and in readily accessible locations in their communities. With a focus on preventing chronic disease and imparting lifestyle change strategies to address existing health and wellness concerns, community centers, in my opinion, have the potential to make the greatest impact. They allow health coaches and fitness professionals to meet people where they are, and to offer programs that can impact not only individual lives but also the collective health and wellness of the communities in which they are located.

The social aspect of behavior change is powerful and not to be overlooked, and because of this I feel a grass-roots effort to create a culture of wellness within individual communities is the approach with the greatest potential to truly shift the physical, emotional and mental well-being of our nation.

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