Health vs. Wellness Coach: What's the Difference?

Darlene Marshall
Darlene Marshall
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The words “health” and “wellness” are often used interchangeably. The media, coaches, and even your doctors may use either word as a catch all for the status of someone's combined physical and mental state of being. This can be confusing since there are key differences between health and wellness.

In this article, we aim to help you understand these differences to support you in unlocking a more holistic approach to your own well-being.

Understanding Health

Overall health goes beyond whether or not you are sick.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) goes out of their way to make that distinction. The WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This perspective surpasses the narrow scope of a disease-centered approach. By highlighting various aspects of well-being and prioritizing it over the mere absence of illness.

Within the domains of health, physical well-being includes not only mitigating metrics like blood pressure or cholesterol but encouraging health through lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, a balanced diet, and prioritizing high quality sleep. The inclusion of emotional health recognizes that mental and emotional factors play a large role in overall well-being. Social health refers to what’s known as the social determinants of health, the way in which our environment and the need for connection dictate many long-term health outcomes.

Wellness: Beyond the Domains of Health

While health is a state, wellness is a process which NASM refers to as the wellness journey. It includes the intentional choices you make for your physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. In a truly holistic approach, each of these domains is interconnected.

For example...

  • Those with healthy social relationships are likely to have a better emotional state and an improved mood.
  • Just like someone who is working on their mindset and relationship with themselves is also more likely to take care of their physical needs.

That’s why the wellness journey is approached with the whole person’s well-being in mind.

Dimensions of Wellness

Wellness includes our emotional, physical, occupational, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, and financial selves. Here’s a breakdown of four of those dimensions:

1. Physical Wellness isn’t only doing exactly what’s optimal for your physical health but considering how to leverage your physical self for your total well-being. For example, movement has been shown to not only help support mental health and limit depression, but also boost your mood for up to 24 hours after a workout. Someone prioritizing wellness might choose to do physical activities they enjoy for more than the exercise benefits.

2. Emotional Wellness is the recognition that, when it comes to our mental health, the absence of the bad isn’t the same as the presence of the good. Working on emotional wellness might include prioritizing positive emotional experiences, and finding things you enjoy that aren’t detrimental to other aspects of health and well-being.

3. Mental Wellness also goes beyond the absence of mental health challenges. This can include someone’s productivity, personal organization, goals, values, and finding meaning and purpose. Mental wellness includes practices that help focus the mind and benefit productivity, creativity, mindset, and self-talk.

4. Social Wellness refers to our relationships, community, and feelings of connection and meaningful contribution. Humans are deeply social creatures, and the quality of our relationships has a significant effect on all other aspects of health and wellness. Social wellness strategies include communication skills to form positive relationships, maintaining good boundaries, and more simple things like inviting others to join you for your wellness activities.

💪🏻 Interested in diving in deeper into NASM's vast podcast and blog resource library. You'll discover a content rich space offering more on topics such as optimizing personal wellness, exploring a career in coaching, practicing mindfulness, corporate wellness and much more!

Applying the Differences Between Wellness and Health Practically

Let's consider an individual with a chronic illness who might not fit the conventional health definition in the eyes of others.

Under the revised WHO perspective, this same person can attain emotional and physical well-being while receiving support from loved ones. This individual may also embrace additional wellness techniques like meditation, journaling, improved nutrition, quality sleep, and personalized safe physical activity.

An excessively narrow viewpoint on health or wellness can also cause difficulties.

Take, for instance, someone with an unhealthy perspective on wellness, who dismisses health screenings as ineffective or opportunistic, and thus solely focuses on wellness tactics.

An example of this could be an individual who believes exercise and protein supplements suffice and uses them to justify neglecting medical check-ups. Consequently, they remain unaware of their excessive training, leading to high blood pressure and eventual illness and harm.

Your Health and Wellness Journey

On your own health and wellness journey you’ll want to consider what works for you in your own life. That means finding wellness practices, health monitoring, and practitioners that work well for you.

To help you start, consider some of the questions a wellness coach would ask in a consultation:

• Do you have any medical conditions or a history of medical conditions in your family?  How are you managing any concerns now? How are you planning for the future? 

• How do you relate to your whole sense of self? What do you do to prioritize your mental, physical, and emotional well-being?

• Set aside the time to journal about what your ideal day would look like if your mental, physical, emotional, and social well-being were a priority.

Your answers to these questions will give you a sense of where to start, or continue, on your own wellness journey. You might also consider whether you’re prioritizing meeting your foundational needs like hydration, good nutrition, quality sleep, and movement you enjoy.

Find Guidance with Darlene Marshall, Practicing Wellness Coach


Health and Wellness Coaching

For those interested in helping others on their wellness journey, coaching can be a rewarding and effective career.

The primary differences between a health coach and a wellness coach are their focus of work, who their clients are, and if the changes are prescribed.

A wellness coach focuses on the ongoing process of a client’s overall wellness. Outcome-based goals will be chosen by the client and become the focus of the coaching work.

In contrast, a health coach focuses on the health outcomes of their client, typically related to their physical health status. A health coach works with individuals who’ve had a clinical diagnosis that requires sustained lifestyle changes.

Educational Requirements

Whether you’re interested in becoming a health or wellness coach, you’ll want to seek out an education program that supports your goals.

Wellness coaching certification typically involves in-depth learning about the domains of wellness, human motivation, behavior change, and coaching skill that allow you to support others.

To learn more about NASM's evidence-based Certified Wellness Coach program and how it can empower you to guide clients towards lasting betterment of their lives, click here.

How much does it cost to become a health and wellness coach? 

The cost of certification to become a qualified wellness coach will vary depending on the course you choose, and you can expect paying anywhere between $650 and $7,000, according to TheBalance.com. A reliable course will be grounded in science, cover the area of expertise you wish to practice in, and include information about behavior change and coaching techniques such as Motivational Interviewing.

How much do Health and Wellness Coaches make? 

According to Salary.com, the median income for a Health and Wellness Coach is $61,000 with the typical salary range falling between $53,000 and $68,000.

Those new to the practice will likely make less while they establish their business, and those with specialized expertise and long-term practices may charge a higher hourly rate or form other streams of related income.

Applying wellness to your current profession 

While current fitness professionals, such as Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches, can find ways to implement wellness coaching into their current business, professionals in other areas can benefit just as much.

Wellness coaching can be applied in various professional settings, such as corporate environments, healthcare institutions, and educational institutions.

By offering personalized guidance on work-life balance, resilience, and time management, professionals can empower their clients, students, and co-workers to navigate unique challenges effectively.

By promoting self-discovery, setting meaningful goals, and providing ongoing support, they can guide others towards achieving a balanced and fulfilling life.

💪🏻 Do you have a passion for helping others? Start your journey in becoming a NASM Certified Wellness Coach.

Final Thoughts

Health and wellness can seem like interchangeable terms, and are often used that way, but are distinct. Understanding and purposely using each word can empower you to take a more informed and therefore empowered approach to your own well-being. Bringing intentionality to your mental, physical, emotional, and social wellness, you’re able to build a more complete state of health.

What to Read Next… 

What is a Health Coach and Why Are They Important?
Reason Why You Shold Become a Wellness Coach
How the Global Wellness Institute is Highliting Better Sleep Habits

The Author

Darlene Marshall

Darlene Marshall

Darlene is a Holistic Wellness Coach who's been working in the fitness and wellness space since 2012. She's an expert at the intersection of fitness, wellness, and well-being. In 2021, Darlene was named America's Favorite Trainer in 2021 by BurnAlong and she hosts the Better Than Fine podcast on the NASM Podcasting Network. She's certified with NASM in Wellness Coaching and Personal Training and has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has additional certifications in Nutrition Coaching, Neurolinguistic Programming, and 200hr YTT in Alignment Yoga and training in sleep coaching, motivational interviewing, meditation, and mindfulness. Want to learn more in Darlene's areas of expertise? Check out her NASM product recommendations.


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