Coach’s Corner: A Coaching Case Study on the Health Benefits of Fun

Posted in

Jeni O'Neill

January 9, 2023


A Coaching Case Study on Fun

When thinking about a healthy lifestyle, we often think of nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management. We don’t often consider our hobbies, creative pursuits, or other activities that we do just for enjoyment. Today I’d like to talk a little about the role that fun plays in our overall health.
Play is a vital part of the human experience. We’re wired to be creative, to enjoy social interactions, and to learn new skills. When we ignore this important area of our lives, it takes a toll on our mental and physical health.



A Case Study about Fun

I had a client who was a mom of two small children and had a demanding job that she worked from home. Her family was very important to her and she enjoyed her work, but she felt she’d lost her zest for life. She had zero motivation to exercise, rarely got outside, and despite her best efforts, often found herself numbing emotions with food late at night. She’d gained weight, had very little energy, didn’t feel like herself, and (most distressing for her) found herself snapping at her husband and children.
During our first session, with a leveled look, she told me in no unclear terms that she was NOT interested in changing how she ate or moved. She’d had experiences with other professionals in the past who prescribed restrictive diets and unsustainable gym schedules. She just didn’t have the energy or time for that.
So I asked her what she WOULD like to work on. She sighed and thought for a few moments. Eventually, we came around to the fact that she wanted to reconnect with some of the things she used to do in her free time before she had so many responsibilities at home. Her first action step, which she chose, was to buy a puzzle. And that first week, that is what she did.
When she came back the next week, she said that the process of picking out the puzzle – along with the anticipation of doing something fun – was more energizing than she imagined it would be. This simple task had opened up a small window in her perspective. She had opened the puzzle and even had some ideas on how to store the in-progress project so that her children wouldn’t scatter the pieces.
As she took some time once a week to spend a few minutes working a puzzle – while her husband put the kids to bed – she began to experience the flow state again. Flow is that state in which we are fully present to what we’re doing. Time often passes quickly when in flow. We’re not thinking about the past or planning the future. We’re here in this moment.
Work and family responsibilities were lifted from her shoulders for those few minutes a week. And this time and state began to spill over into other areas of her life. Over the next few weeks, my client started taking a regular lunch break out of the house once a week. This gave her something to look forward to and a change of pace that she enjoyed.
These small steps allowed her to feel successful. She learned that the small tweaks she had made could make a big difference in her outlook. Over the next few weeks, she decided to get her treadmill fixed. She stopped using it as a clothes rack, and began walking and jogging on it a few times a week. She started taking her kids for walks outside and found that she was able to truly enjoy this time with them.
Then one week, to my surprise, she told me she’d been working on eating more protein and asked me if we could talk about some ways for her to improve her nutrition. We talked about phytonutrients and later I sent her some handouts on colorful fruits and vegetables she could add into her day. Later that week she sent me a proud picture of her colorful lunch plate!
After our sessions together were completed, I didn’t hear from her for a while. A couple of months later, I received an email from her. She wanted to let me know that she was eating better, had great energy, had lost 20 pounds, and had made several other changes of which she was very proud. She had even set some longer-term goals.
She didn’t need me anymore. She found her stride and felt confident that she could be effective in making the changes in her life that she wanted to make.

Two Lessons We Can Learn from Her Story

First, we all have to start where we are. Starting small allows us to be consistent, to slowly adapt to change, and to shift our identity to one that is more aligned with our values. When we can be consistent, we feel more effective, which motivates us to keep going!
Secondly, spending time outside of our responsibilities in a way that is meaningful for us is not a “nice to have”. It’s a need. And spending some free time away from our phones in a flow state might just spill over into our health by reducing stress hormones, reducing cravings, and giving us energy and motivation to tackle other things that will make us feel good.



Does Fun Really Matter to Our Physical Health?

Barbara Fredrickson, director of the UNC Chapel Hill positive emotions and psychophysiology laboratory (PEP lab), has made it her life’s work to help us answer this question. Her work focuses on positive emotions and their effect on our physical and mental health. What stimulates positive emotions more than meaningful, intrinsically-energizing fun?
In the short term, when people experience positive emotions they are more creative, resilient, and flexible. Positive emotions act as a reset button after negative experiences. New research is also finding powerful long-term health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular measures, beneficial gene expression, reduced inflammation, and stronger immune function.



What Do You Do Just for Fun?

As your coach, I’d like to ask you: What do you do ON A REGULAR BASIS that is fun, creative, or meaningful to you? Aside from work and family responsibilities, what do you look forward to? This doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. It could be a craft or hobby that you used to do or a skill you’ve been wanting to learn. The important thing is to be specific on the action steps you will take and set aside time for them – then keep that appointment with yourself! You’ll be glad you did.
What fun would you like to add into your life? Leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram and let us know so that we can cheer you on!
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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