Personnel Image

Written By

Louise Ottewell


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

30 January 2023

Related Study Areas

A Q&A with experts in Lifestyle Medicine

Australian medical experts across a broad range of disciplines are paving the way to improving health outcomes through an innovative approach to medicine which can result in the prevention, and even reversal, of many diseases.

The connection between chronic physical and mental health illnesses, and the lifestyle-related health problems of patients is not to be underestimated.

Better known today as Lifestyle Medicine, the growing body of evidence emphasising the importance of this connection, has instigated an increased interest in whole of person and community care.

Keep reading for Lifestyle Medicine insights from leaders in the field including James Cook University Senior Lecturer Dr Sam Manger, Dr Jill Gamberg, and Professor Felice Jacka.

What exactly is Lifestyle Medicine?

RACGP Queensland GP of the Year for 2021 and Equally Well ambassador Dr Sam Manger says, “The World Health Organisation defines health as a ‘state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’”

Dr Manger is a rural GP, JCU medical educator of GPs in training, academic lead for JCU’s postgraduate Lifestyle Medicine courses and Vice President of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.

He adds to the definition; “Lifestyle Medicine is the evidence-based application of nutrition, fasting, movement, sleep, state of mind, substance reduction, the creative arts, social prescribing and connection, and our relationship with the natural world.”

JCU Lifestyle Medicine Course Coordinator, Dr Sam Manger

Why is Lifestyle Medicine important?

In 2017, poor diet accounted for one in five, or 11 million, adult deaths.

“This statistic may shock many people. By improving nutrition, the breadth of conditions that could be prevented is huge. For example, evidence indicates between 46-86 per cent of type 2 diabetes is reversible with lifestyle approaches,” Dr Manger says.

“The evidence is clear, by attending to the roots of health, lifestyle as medicine plays a vital role in the health and wellbeing of every person and community on the planet.”

The number of Australians who have chronic health conditions is also increasing.

“It’s something we all need to be concerned about,” Dr Manger says. “The good news is that when we start looking at the lifestyle and social determinants of our patients, we treat the cause, not just the symptoms.”

Engaging patients as partners in their own treatment is a core element of Lifestyle Medicine and requires a multi-disciplinary approach to health care. Lifestyle Medicine students at JCU learn to apply theories in psychological, medical, nutritional and addiction science in a variety of health contexts with a wide range of electives in public health including health economics.

Dr Jill Gamberg, Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, GP with a Masters in coaching psychology and JCU Lifestyle Medicine lecturer, has observed the rise in the adoption of lifestyle changes as medicine.

“The more that health care professionals gain formal qualifications, the more Lifestyle Medicine becomes public knowledge and an accepted part of medical care, rather than an adjunct. By delivering programs such as JCU’s Lifestyle Medicine courses, we can continue to integrate whole of person solutions and improve the health of communities,” said Dr Gamberg.

How does Lifestyle Medicine help with mental health?

Felice Jacka OAM is Professor of Nutritional Psychiatry, Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, Adjunct Professor at James Cook University and founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR). Recognised globally for her work, Professor Jacka is an Honorary ASLM Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and blends this expertise with psychiatry in her career.

“I always begin with food as the fundamental starting point. If we’re not getting the right fuel into our bodies, we aren’t going to function at an optimum level. This underpins virtually every biological human process, including mental health disorders. That’s not to say that these are caused by unhealthy lifestyles or that improving lifestyle behaviours will ‘cure’ all mental disorders. More than improving diet, movement, sleep and reducing substance use should be the foundation of care to support the best outcomes no matter what the treatment” Prof Jacka says.

“There is increasing understanding that our immune systems, metabolic systems, symbiotic microbiota, and gut-brain axis are all profoundly influenced by lifestyle behaviours. These in turn influence mental and brain health, providing important new opportunities for both prevention and treatment in psychiatry.”

Professor Jacka and Dr Manger initiated the global task force to produce the first set of international practice guidelines for lifestyle-based care in mental health treatment. They are now globally recognised leaders in this influential new field.

“Good mental health care including lifestyle approaches also makes a difference to life expectancy. On average, those with severe mental illness are likely to die 10-20 years sooner than those without. This is due to the presence of lifestyle-related physical chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and smoking related lung disease,” said Dr Manger.

What does it look like to study Lifestyle Medicine?

“Lifestyle Medicine is about adding years to life and life to years. Once you see the results in people and communities, you can’t turn back. The online JCU postgraduate courses in Lifestyle Medicine offer a unique opportunity for all health professionals to study the roots of whole of person and whole of community healthcare. This training is an incubator for Lifestyle Medicine careers, projects, and innovation in healthcare.

Our commonwealth-supported places in the Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma provide an excellent foundation for enhancing clinical and research expertise, and the Master of Lifestyle Medicine allows health professionals to become leaders and experts in the career direction of their choice. I have been so inspired by the quality and creativity of the JCU students to date, and I look forward to supporting many more” says Dr Manger.

What is the future for those studying Lifestyle Medicine?

“There are endless opportunities in Lifestyle Medicine at an individual, entrepreneurial, business, community, and government level,” said Dr Gamberg.

“Used as an integral part of patient management by healthcare practitioners such as dieticians, GPs, physiotherapists and psychologists, there are also research, education, and business opportunities. Mental health, cancer, prehab and rehab clinics are changing their approaches based on the evidence-based results. By looking at the bigger picture, we can contribute to a global shift in medicine.”

Learn from experts in Lifestyle Medicine by applying to study a Master of Lifestyle Medicine, Graduate Certificate of Lifestyle Medicine, or a Graduate Diploma of Lifestyle Medicine at James Cook University.

Discover JCU Lifestyle Medicine

Take the next step in your healthcare career.