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Exercise as medicine in Indigenous health

Monday, 08 July 2013

Tags: Homepage; Faculty of Computing, Health and Science; Indigenous

ECU PhD candidate Mr Tuguy Esgin believes using exercise as a form of medicine could help Indigenous Australians avoid a range of chronic diseases. His aim is to see exercise used as a preventative measure as well as treating the symptoms once a chronic disease has developed.

His study is investigating why Indigenous Australians have lower exercise participation rates, the barriers they face, and developing ways to overcome them.

He surveyed 120 Indigenous Australians in Perth’s Nyoongar community seeking to understand if gym-based exercise could be a solution.

A key finding of his research indicated the preference to exercise in team sports such as football and netball. Individual forms of exercise such as going to the gym, swimming or jogging put Indigenous Australians off exercising because it is at odds with their focus on community.

“The peer reviewed literature suggests that some of the Indigenous communities in Australia believe that taking time out to exercise alone was seen as selfish and therefore they didn’t make the effort,” Mr Esgin said.

“Other reasons, such as the expensive nature of gym membership, living in remote locations, or limited access to facilities have also emerged as significant barriers to exercise.”

“Research also indicated that gym programs are very solitary and go against the community upbringing that is very strong in Indigenous communities. This lack of cultural understanding can also put Indigenous people off all forms exercise, further fostering a negative attitude,” he said.

The survey results have been used as basis for an exercise intervention program based at leisure centres in Belmont, Southlakes and Wanneroo.  He has also approached the cities of Swan, Kwinana and Armadale to start up similar programs.

Participants were also asked to complete 150 minutes of unsupervised exercise per week, based on exercises prescribed by ECU researchers.

Health indicators of participants are being analysed before and after the program at ECU’s state-of-the-art Health and Wellness Institute. Their opinions of exercise, and whether or not it has changed, are also being assessed.

Mr Esgin hopes that by working directly with Indigenous Australians he can develop a best practice model for exercise programs which have practical benefits for these communities.

“As a Nyoongar I’ve seen first-hand the health issues affecting those in urban, regional and remote communities, including heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, all conditions which can be markedly improved through appropriate exercise” Mr Esgin said.

These chronic diseases not only impact quality of life but also the socio-economic status of the community and the recruitment and retention of Indigenous employees in workplaces. Exercise has been shown to improve both physiological and psychological health but the challenge is getting people to start and then make it an ongoing part of their lifestyle. 

“If we don’t start implementing programs now that address some of these barriers, we’re never going to address the heart of the problem and change behaviours for future generations.”

 For further information on Tuguy Esgin’s study read the ABC News report.


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