2014-02-19

Co.Exist

This Digital Health Coaching Startup Gets A Real Coach To Nudge You Into Shape

For all the effort being put into digital tools to get people to exercise more, sometimes all it takes is a good push from a real, live person.

Finding the motivation to exercise is difficult, but in some cases, all it takes is a nudge from a friend, colleague, or even a stranger. My recent nudge came from Glennis Coursey, coaching director at the health coaching startup Sessions, which was acquired this week by health and fitness tracking company MyFitnessPal. After learning all about my health and fitness habits from an online questionnaire and an introductory phone call, Coursey came up with some basic ideas for how I could get to my goal of one hour of exercise per day. If I had been an actual client, she would have continued to badger me with emails and text messages to track my progress.

The Sessions program that I participated in won't be available in the future. The team is joining MyFitnessPal and creating a new program that will still involve coaching from real, live humans. While details about what that would look like aren't yet available, MyFitnessPal cofounder Mike Lee says it will be a paid offering (currently, all of MyFitnessPal's features are free). "Certainly if it involves another person there will be a revenue stream attached to that," he says.

Sessions, one of a growing group of online coaching platforms like Wello, FitOrbit, and Omada Health, was hatched in 2012 at the Rock Health startup accelerator program. "My mother is a doctor, so I always had healthcare in my life in a kind of high-touch way," explains Nick Crocker, the founder of Sessions. The coaching platform, he says, was built on the fly, transitioning quickly from coaching via spreadsheets and phone calls to emails and text messages.

MyFitnessPal recently became intrigued by Sessions, which boasted some impressively high statistics for adherence and completion of its program. "Coaching is something that our members have been asking us for," says Lee. He adds: "We are not going to be simply taking Sessions and bolting it on to MyFitnessPal. Sessions will be wound down." MyFitnessPal plans on taking all the lessons learned by Sessions about how to keep people on track and adding them to its new program. Nonetheless, my experience with Sessions may provide a hint of what's to come.

At $199 per month, the highest-end Sessions package included an activity assessment, unlimited email, phone and text support, a monthly review, and more. There was no time limit for the program, but all participants went through three phases: preparation (inputting lifestyle information, meeting a coach), change (working towards a goal), and maintenance.

My trainer, Coursey, told me that she was a certified wellness coach who studied psychology and interpersonal communication. I'm a fairly active person, so I asked her to explain how she could help a client like myself get from 30 minutes to 60 minutes of exercise per day. "We'd maybe start with 35 minute sessions, make that a really solid habit, add a little more and make that a solid habit. We would slowly, sustainably work towards the goal," she says. Every week, we'd come up with a short-term plan, and Coursey would check in throughout the week to monitor my progress.

The Sessions acquisition makes sense in the context of MyFitnessPal's growing "quantified-self" bid. In addition to basic calorie, weight, and exercise tracking functions, the platform includes integration with a number of other products, including Wi-Fi scales, exercise bikes, and wearable fitness trackers. Coaches will be able to leverage all of the resulting data to help clients achieve their goals. "It gives us a great view of what people are actually doing," says Lee.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

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