Medical researchers are refining their knowledge about what keeps astronauts in space phsically fit.
Benjamin Levine: We calculated or estimated that – in order to maintain the work of the heart while you’e in spaceflight – you’d need to do about 90 minutes of cycling every day to keep the heart at its pre-spaceflight level. But that also is a lot of work. It’s a lot of exercise.
That’s Benjamin Levine, a medical researcher working with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.
Benjamin Levine: We looked to the sporting world and asked, which athletes have the biggest hearts, the densest bones, the biggest muscles. And that was a pretty quick answer: it’s rowers.
Levine said that rowing is a very unique exercise. He said it’s like a combination of weight training and endurance training. Plus the blood pressure goes up high with each stroke, so it’s a good, solid workout for the heart.
Levine’s recent study combined rowing with nutritional support for test subjects spending 5 weeks on bed rest to simulate the effects of reduced gravity on the body. And it appears the rowing regimen does keep the hearts, bones and muscles of astronauts fit, while cutting the time spent on exercise by more than half.
Benjamin Levine: I think that all astronauts would benefit from rowing, but that doesn’t mean that all astronauts will like rowing. Honestly, as long as you maintain the work of the muscle, it will maintain its structure and function.
Levine mentioned that this research relates to what doctors call the Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or POTS. This ailment primary affects young women, and it means that, when these women stand up, their hearts pound, they get headaches. The disease can be incapacitating. Currently, an exercise intervention – based on rowing – similar to that studied by Dr. Levine is being tested.
Special thanks today to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute – innovations for health in space and on Earth.
Our thanks to:
Director, Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine
Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Photo Credit: NASA
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