Getting Cook Islanders into a dance routine

Cook Islands people will dance their way to better health if Dunedin researcher Troy Tararo-Ruhe’s vision succeeds.

Born in New Zealand, of Cook Islands Maori ancestry, Mr Tararo-Ruhe (26) is believed to be the first Cook Islands PhD student to study at the University of Otago School of Physical Education, Sports and Exercise Sciences.

He is in the final year of PhD study and spent last year in the Cook Islands working with communities on a dance-related exercise programme, which also includes other resistance exercises.

Physical activity had been shown to decrease blood pressure, control blood glucose and decrease depressive symptoms, and hula dancing had already shown its effectiveness in reducing blood pressure, he said.

Dunedin researcher Troy Tararo-Ruhe joins members of the Dunedin Pasifika community in dance...
Dunedin researcher Troy Tararo-Ruhe joins members of the Dunedin Pasifika community in dance-related exercise. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Mr Tararo-Ruhe, who gained an Otago bachelor of physical education degree in 2017, said his purpose in life was to serve his Cook Islands people both there and in New Zealand, and all Pacific Islands people.

Dance had been a big part of his childhood because of its cultural importance, "so I was aware of its importance as a form of physical activity even before I learned about the science behind it".

His PhD work had been supported by a Health Research Council scholarship to undertake a "Niu Movement", a physical activity programme he had previously developed, in collaboration with Cook Islands community members and in keeping with Cook Islands values.

The programme included traditional Cook Island dance (ura) and also simulated the four phases of coconut cream preparation.

Over the past two years he had worked with communities in Dunedin and in the Cook Islands providing exercise training for over 200 Pacific Islands people of all ages.

"This is the first time this has ever been done, and I when I did this work in the Cook Islands I couldn’t believe I had reached my life goal of helping my communities so early in my career!"

Preliminary results from observational studies in both Dunedin and Rarotonga had shown decreases in blood pressure, waist and hip circumference, and an increase in cardiorespiratory measures, he said.

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