Best Health Coach Certification Programs

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Do you enjoy talking with people about their health and wellbeing or empowering others to make lifestyle changes? If you’re drawn to all things health-related and you enjoy working with people, you may want to consider a career as a health coach. 

Health coaches work individually or with groups of people looking to make health-related lifestyle changes. A health coach helps people identify areas of concern, assist with goal setting, and provide encouragement and motivation along the way. 

The best health coach certification programs either focus on a particular area like nutrition or offer a broad curriculum designed to cover several health-related concerns. Some may provide training in specialized areas such as business coaching or fitness and nutrition coaching. 

Here, we go over the pros and cons of different health coach certification programs, what to consider before signing on the dotted line and review some frequently asked questions.

Our Top Picks

Best for Integrative or Holistic Health: Institute for Integrative Nutrition

"IIN has grown into one of the larger and more popular health coaching certification programs, with more than 100,000 graduates to date."

Best for the Nutrition-Focused: Precision Nutrition Level 1

"Precision Nutrition claims to help students 'master the science of nutrition' and 'the art of coaching.'"

Best for Academics: Emory University

"Emory University has one of the few health coaching programs that offer the title of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach."

Best for a Deep Dive at a University: Duke Integrative Medicine

"After graduating, you can sit for the certifying examination required for health & wellness coaches to become a health coach."

Best to Go Along with a Personal Training Certification: American Council on Exercise

"The ACE health coaching program is the only such program accredited by the NCCA, the gold standard for credentialing agencies."

Best for Business Support: Health Coach Institute

"The graduate course focuses entirely on building your health coaching business."

Best as an Accessory for Licenced Professionals: National Society of Health Coaches

"A rigorous program that prepares students for anything and everything in the health coaching industry."

Best with No Prerequisites: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

"A well-rounded, information-rich program that requires no prerequisites to enroll."

Our Top Picks

Best for Integrative or Holistic Health: Institute for Integrative Nutrition

Institute for Integrative Nutrition

 Institute for Integrative Nutrition

Why We Chose It: The Institute for Integrative Nutrition is one of the largest integrative and holistic health coach certification programs in the world.

Pros
  • Two training programs available

  • Fast-track, six-month program

  • Largest health coaching program in the world

Cons
  • Need to commit to 10 to 16 hours a week of studying for 6-month program

  • More expensive than other health coaching programs

  • Non-fast track program takes 12 months

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is known for its, well, integrative approach to health coaching. Founded by the now-well-known Joshua Rosenthal in a tiny New York City kitchen, IIN has grown into one of the larger and more popular health coaching certification programs, with more than 100,000 graduates to date. 

The curriculum focuses largely on what IIN calls “primary food,” or aspects of life such as relationships, finances, stress, and social life. To IIN, actual food is secondary to all of those factors. You’ll learn about nutrition, physiology, and anatomy, but those lessons typically stick to the very basics (think: how carbs, protein, and fat affect the body differently). 

This program is for you if: You want to learn about non-nutrition components of health coaching and focus on lifestyle management. You should also have at least 10 hours per week to dedicate to this program. 

This program is not for you if: You want to spend less than six months on a certification; want to dive deeper into the nuances of nutrition; or don’t care for ancient/traditional medicine or IIN’s “primary food” concept.

Best for the Nutrition-Focused: Precision Nutrition Level 1

Precision Nutrition

 Precision Nutrition

Why We Chose It: The Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification program takes a deep dive into nutrition coaching with its science-backed curriculum.

Pros
  • Specific focus on nutrition

  • Printed and online course materials

  • Supportive online community

Cons
  • Not a general health coaching certification program

  • Limited course availability

  • Employment limited to nutrition coaching

On the flip side, if you are very interested in the details of nutrition and how the body processes, responds to and utilizes food, the Precision Nutrition health coaching certification might be the one for you. Precision Nutrition claims to help students “master the science of nutrition” and “the art of coaching,” which is great—those are the two main skills you’ll need to succeed as a health coach. 

The Precision Nutrition program dives deep into nutrition science, so if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with human anatomy and physiology, expect to fumble a bit over the science-speak you’ll find in the program. Because Precision Nutrition is available to anyone—no prerequisites required—the course does attempt to put things in lay terms, but you can’t expect to entirely avoid medical terminology. 

This program is for you if: You want a completely online course developed by a credentialed expert in nutrition (John Berardi, PhD, is the founder) and you want to focus on nutrition only. 

This program is not for you if: You want any sort of hands-on learning or want to learn about more aspects of health coaching, other than just nutrition.

Best for Academics: Emory University

Emory University

 Emory University

Why We Chose It: Emory University earned the top spot for academics because of its challenging, university-level health coaching program.

Pros
  • Hybrid program combines live online and self-paced curriculum

  • Program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)

  • Uses evidence-based relational/behavioral change skills to help clients improve health

Cons
  • Must have completed a bachelor’s degree of higher to enroll

  • Cannot miss any classes or coaching sessions

  • Requires some in-person full weekend classes

Emory University’s Health Coach Certificate Program is approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) as a transition program, meaning it’s suitable for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Most students who partake in transition programs are looking for continuing education, but don’t want to commit to another entire degree program. 

The Emory University health coaching program begins and concludes with a full weekend of in-person classes in Atlanta, Ga., which sandwich 16 weeks of online coursework that you can complete from anywhere. Based on the course description, this program is tough and has a long list of learning objectives. When you pass the exam, you earn the title of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC)—Emory University has one of the few health coaching programs that offer this title. It holds prestige because the NBHWC collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners to develop this program. 

This program is for you if: You love academia and want a challenging, university-level health coaching program, as well as a nationally recognized title. 

This program is not for you if: You haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and/or can’t attend the in-person weekend courses.  

Best for a Deep Dive at a University: Duke Integrative Medicine

Duke Integrative Medicine

 Duke Integrative Medicine

Why We Chose It: The Duke Integrative Medicine Health and Wellbeing Coach certification program is one of the most rigorous university-level certification programs available.

Pros
  • Program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)

  • Well researched and based on several years of clinical experience

  • Focuses on behavior change and healthy habits with clients

Cons
  • Must have completed a bachelor’s degree of higher to enroll

  • Program takes 10 months to complete

  • Designed for medical and allied health providers only

Another university-based program, the Duke Integrative Health Coaching Program has two distinct portions: the foundation course and the certification course. All students are required to complete both. The foundation course is online or at Duke’s Durham, N.C. campus, while the certification course is taken online with the exception of the final written exam. 

Like the Emory University certification, the Duke health coaching program is NBHWC-approved as a transition program. After graduating, you can sit for the certifying examination required for health & wellness coaches to become National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches (NBC-HWC).

This program is for you if: You have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field of study or you have three to five years of work experience in a health, wellness, or fitness field; you want the option of in-person coursework; and if you desire the NBC-HWC title.  

This program is not for you if: You don’t have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree; you don’t want to spend more than six months on a program; or you don’t want to take multiple exams.

Best to Go Along with a Personal Training Certification: American Council on Exercise

American Council on Exercise

 American Council on Exercise

Why We Chose It: Certified personal trainers looking to broaden their expertise and services for clients should consider the American Council on Exercise's Health Coach certification. This program offers trainers a way to learn about all aspects of health coaching.

Pros
  • Affordable health coaching certification program

  • Comprehensive course materials on motivational interviewing, active listening, and goal setting

  • Helpful tool for personal trainers to expand business

Cons
  • Requires NCCA-accredited certification, associate’s degree in related field, or two years of specified experience

  • Recertification is required every two years

  • Might be too specific to fitness for non-exercise professionals

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers one of the best personal training certifications available and is known for its vast selection of specialization programs. One such program is the ACE Health Coach certification, which is a great accessory for those who are already personal trainers (particularly if you’re an ACE-certified personal trainer). You don’t necessarily have to be a certified personal trainer to get this credential, but you do need some sort of health credential or experience as a prerequisite. 

To enroll in the health coaching program, you must have one of the following: “a current NCCA-accredited certification in fitness, nutrition, healthcare, wellness, human resources or a related field; an associate degree or higher from an accredited college or university in fitness, exercise science, nutrition, healthcare, wellness or a related field; a completed health coach training and education program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC); or a minimum of two years of documented work experience in coaching, leading, designing, implementing, or facilitating one or more of the following: behavior or lifestyle change, exercise, wellness, nutrition, or physical activity.”

The ACE health coaching program is the only such program accredited by the NCCA, the gold standard for credentialing agencies in the health and fitness industry.  

This program is for you if: You have or are working toward one of the necessary prerequisites, and plan on using your health coaching knowledge in addition to your current specialty (e.g., a certified personal trainer who can also provide nutrition coaching). 

This program is not for you if: You don’t have or don’t want to get a prerequisite health or fitness credential. 

Best for Business Support: Health Coach Institute

Health Coach Institute

Health Coach Institute

Why We Chose It: The graduate-level course at Health Coach Institute focuses on building your health coaching business.

Pros
  • Offers a base-level and master-level program

  • Master-level program has a strong focus on business-building practices

  • Coaching programs include mentorship and community support

Cons
  • Business-building program is 12 months long

  • One of the higher-priced programs

  • Coach mastery program does not include as much health coaching as entry level program

The Health Coach Institute (HCI) offers two programs: Become a Health Coach (base-level) and Coach Mastery. The health coach certification program focuses on many of the same objectives that other programs on this list cover: nutrition, behavior change, exercise, stress, lifestyle, etc. 

To take it one step further, however, the graduate course focuses entirely on building your health coaching business. It’s best for people who already have experience with health coaching and are looking to dig deeper, make a bigger difference, and discover new ways to scale their business. 

This program is for you if: You either want a health coach certification and a business coaching program to refine your health coaching career; or you already have a health coaching certification and want to better your business with the graduate-level program. 

This program is not for you if: You don’t have an interest in or need to learn business-building practices. 

Best as an Accessory for Licenced Professionals: National Society of Health Coaches

National Society of Health Coaches

 National Society of Health Coaches

Why We Chose It: The National Society of Health Coaches is an exclusive certification program for licensed health or medical professionals looking for an evidence-based health coaching program.

Pros
  • Clinical, evidence-based health coaching program

  • Designed for healthcare professionals (medical doctor, dentist, nurses, chiropractor)

  • Course materials available in hard copy or E-manual

Cons
  • Only available to licensed healthcare professionals

  • Materials are non-refundable

  • Recertification through testing every 5 years costs about $350

The National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) spearheaded the first clinical, evidence-based health coaching program. It heavily utilizes motivational interviewing as a coaching tactic, and many large companies use the NSHC model to train healthcare personnel—it’s a rigorous program that prepares students for anything and everything in the health coaching industry. The caveat? The NSHC is only available to licensed healthcare professionals. 

Rather than a standalone health coaching program, the NSHC certification is designed to be used in conjunction with a medical license, such as a doctor of chiropractic, registered nurse, licensed dentist, or naturopathic doctor. Other health professionals not on the list of acceptable prerequisites—dubbed “allied healthcare providers”—can take the course for a “certificate of completion,” but they won’t earn the actual “health coach certification” credential.  

This program is for you if: You are a licensed health or medical professional and want to earn an additional credential or use this program as a continuing education opportunity. 

This program is not for you if: You do not have one of the accepted health or medical licenses to enroll and earn the NSHC certification.

Best with No Prerequisites: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

 Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Why We Chose It: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute Health Coach Training offers an entry-level program that requires no prerequisites to enroll and focuses on three specific areas: pregnancy, families, and adults/seniors.

Pros
  • Three certification programs available: families, pregnancy, and adults/seniors

  • Marketing and business strategy included in training

  • Offers a Master Health Coach Certification for advanced training

Cons
  • Some programs require weekly live virtual classes

  • Not as recognized as other health certification programs

  • Specialized certificates rather than general health coaching certification

If you are considering a change of career and want to pivot to health coaching, you may feel frustrated with the number of programs that require prerequisites—especially if you don’t have the means, financially or otherwise, to commit to a bachelor’s degree program. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, founded by Dr. William Sears, makes health coaching accessible to everyone by offering programs that don’t require prerequisites.

The Dr. Sears programs are very well-rounded, following Dr. Sears’ personal philosophy that lifestyle, attitude, nutrition, and exercise are the four cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle. Not coincidentally, those are the four pillars of the health coaching coursework. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute is approved by more than 10 leading agencies in the health and fitness industry, including the NBHWC and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 

This program is for you if: Want a well-rounded, information-rich program that requires no prerequisites to enroll; you want online-only learning; and you want a program you can complete in as little as six weeks (but up to 36 weeks, depending on the course you choose).

This program is not for you if: You don’t want mandatory live lectures (online); or you don’t want to choose one of the Dr. Sears coaching specializations (adults and seniors, pregnancy, or families) and would rather have an overarching certification. 

Final Verdict 

The health coaching certification programs on this list serve a wide variety of needs. From entry-level programs like Dr. Sears Wellness Institute to advanced-level university programs like Emory University and Duke Integrative Medicine, this range of training programs shows just how broad the health coaching field is. Overall, there are many reputable health coaching programs that prepare students of various levels and academic backgrounds to work with clients. The main difference between the programs comes down to specialization and how you want to use your health coach certification.  

Health Coach Certification Programs vs Life Coach Certification Programs

It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to health coaches and life coaches as the same profession. And while they do overlap, health coaches focus more on supporting clients with health-related goals like nutrition, wellness, and fitness. A health coach helps clients set goals to improve their health and then provides support while they make lifestyle changes. A life coach focuses on all aspects of wellbeing, including physical, cognitive, and emotional. They may work with a client on career issues, finances, life transitions, setting goals, confidence, and purposeful-driven choices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Health Coach?

A health coach is an expert in the areas of health, nutrition, and exercise, as well as human behavior and motivation. They empower their clients to adopt and maintain lifestyle habits that can improve their overall health and wellbeing and lower their risk and/or reduce the effects of chronic disease.

Some areas that health coaches may focus on include nutrition, stress management, weight loss, sleep hygiene, addiction, and physical activity. They help people discover the reasons why they need to make health improvements and identify challenges and obstacles while providing support, guidance, and accountability for making lifestyle changes. It is, however, important to note that health coaches do not diagnose or treat medical conditions and do not have the appropriate training to provide medical nutritional therapy.

How Do You Become a Certified Health Coach?

To become a certified health coach, the first step is to find a certified or accredited training program, such as the ones included here. If it’s accredited by one of the widely-recognized, third-party organizations such as the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, you’ll know that you’ll get the relevant and necessary training and instruction that you need to work with clients. 

Most certified health coach programs take three months to one year to complete. Many are done online using video lectures and exams, and some can be done at your own pace.

Is Hiring a Health Coach Worth It?

Health coaching can be effective for people hoping to improve their well-being and get help with managing different health conditions. One study found that coaching helped patients improve multiple risk factors, blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight, body mass index, and cardiorespiratory fitness.

For people who need guidance, motivation, and accountability to take steps to a healthier lifestyle, hiring a health coach can be a worthwhile investment. You may find that the cost is covered, at least partially, by your health insurance, and/or this service may be offered by your employer as a benefit.

How Much Do Health Coaches Make?

The health coach salary range typically falls between approximately $40,000 and $55,000 a year. Salaries can vary widely depending on education, certifications, skills, experience, and client base.

Methodology 

To choose the best health coach certification programs, we cast a wide net to include programs with specialties like Precision Nutrition Level 1 and university-level programs like Emory University. All of the certification programs come from reputable companies with a successful track record of training and certifying health coaches. Finally, we included programs that require potential students to hold a certain education level, training, or certification even to apply.

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  1. Gordon NF, Salmon RD, Wright BS, Faircloth GC, Reid KS, Gordon TL. Clinical Effectiveness of Lifestyle Health Coaching: Case Study of an Evidence-Based Program. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2017;11(2):153-166. doi:10.1177/1559827615592351