Is lifestyle the life hack for health care?

Richard Dinnen - Queensland Editor |

Dr Sam Manger teaches lifestyle medicine at James Cook University (JCU)
Dr Sam Manger teaches lifestyle medicine at James Cook University (JCU)

Something called ‘lifestyle medicine’ might conjure images of candles, crystals, lotions, and potions.

But that’s not what you get when you consult one of the growing number of doctors who practise or specialise in this approach to health care.

Sam Manger is one of them, a Queensland GP who teaches lifestyle medicine courses at Queensland’s James Cook University College of Medicine and Dentistry.

“It’s not supplements, it’s not alternative medicine.

“It’s using lifestyle as medicine. Food, fasting, movement, sleep, social connection, connection with the natural world, stress management.

“We combine that with health coaching and behaviour change techniques, new models of care, so that we can properly support people in those lifestyle and behaviour changes.

“This is really rigorous, but also common-sense medicine that is not practised commonly.

Medical science has long acknowledged that the way we live either heals us or harms us, but general practice has tended to be more focussed on medication and procedures.

Dr Manger said he’s confident that is changing.

“Medicare needs to evolve. The Medicare item numbers are based on medicine 40 years ago, when we were dealing with more acute and short problems like infections and trauma.

“Now we’re dealing with much more chronic disease, which is complex, and people usually have multiples of them. There are complex psycho-social factors involved now as well.

“The solution to these is not more medication. It’s addressing how we deliver healthcare.

“Medication absolutely has a role, but it should be reserved for when it’s really necessary, rather than being used immediately.”

 Dr Manger became interested in lifestyle medicine when he applied some of its principles to address his own health challenges.

 “You look at any major disease guideline, and the first line for a lot of them is ‘lifestyle’.

“The science is very clear that up to 80 per cent of chronic disease is treatable and preventable with lifestyle interventions.

“There’s been many studies showing that on major depressive disorder, lifestyle interventions are as effective, if not more, than medication.

“Type two diabetes is a common problem that’s growing in prevalence, and studies show up to 80 per cent of that can be reversed under the right guidance.

“It’s an under-utilised aspect of care. What we’re doing at James Cook University (JCU) is bringing that to the front.”

Dr Manger said there’s been strong interest in the JCU lifestyle medicine courses.

“We’ve had a really great uptake from all different health professionals, GPs, nurses, psychologists, exercise physiologists.

“There’s a lot of interest because there’s a really high demand from the public for this more holistic approach to care.”

Sam Manger is the president of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and the 2021 Royal Australian College of General Practice GP of the year.

He hosts a podcast for doctors called The GP Show