Let’s get physical: improving Indigenous health through sports science
Tuguy Esgin is tackling noncommunicable diseases in Indigenous health through exercise and sports science
On Tuguy Esgin’s first day as an Aboriginal health worker, he was shocked by his first patient’s health markers: their blood glucose was twice the healthy level and their blood pressure was dangerously high. But he was even more surprised to hear the markers described by other staff as “normal”. Tuguy decided then and there to tackle chronic non-communicable diseases in Indigenous health.
Tuguy, a Noongar man from Perth, worked in Indigenous communities as part of his health sciences degree. His experience left him frustrated with the standard biomedical approach to health treatment. “There needs to be a greater focus on preventative, holistic approaches,” says Tuguy.
He discovered there were huge research gaps in the use of exercise strategies to combat chronic diseases in Indigenous communities. This led to his PhD thesis, which was based on the concept of ‘exercise as medicine’. Tuguy tracked the physiological and psychological effects of Indigenous people training in gyms and his findings provided quantitative evidence of how exercise can improve quality of life outcomes.
The study facilitated a community approach to exercise. “The most rewarding part was getting people together and yarning for hours. I learnt so much about the Noongar culture,” says Tuguy.
Tuguy is now a lecturer in exercise and sport science at the University of Sydney. With culturally appropriate means of engaging the Indigenous community in exercise, Tuguy believes we can give all Australians “equal access to the benefits of an active life”.
– Larissa Fedunik-Hofman