Exercising while ‘resting’ in bed for space travel

A new study from NASA is trying to work out what kind of training regimen is best to fight muscle atrophy, bone loss and cardio deconditioning. While the study is intended mainly for astronauts spending long periods of time in space, the results might also be helpful here on Earth.

Test subject Liz Goetchius works out on the vertical treadmill for the iRAT study

Test subject Liz Goetchius works out on the vertical treadmill for the iRAT study (credit: NASA)

The study conducted by NASA and named “iRAT” – Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training –aimed at evaluating the effects of high intensity exercise training with respect to preventing loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular function.

Probably the most intriguing aspect of the research was the fact that all the participants exercised while ‘resting’ in bed – as much as an oxymoron this might sound. The study lasted 70 days and involved participants on the ground. Each subject remained for the entire duration of the research in a bed which was kept in a six-degree head-down tilt to simulate the fluids shift of spaceflight. They performed different types of exercise, including cycling and ‘vertical’ treadmill running thanks to being hooked up to special equipment fitted ad hoc for the task.

The participants were split in three groups. The first was a control group that did no exercise. The second group exercised daily. The third group also exercised daily and was prescribed a testosterone treatment. All participants ate a controlled diet of 55% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 15% proteins. The two groups who exercised did a weight-based training three times a week and aerobic-based exercise six days a week. High-intensity interval aerobic exercise and continuous aerobic exercise were performed on alternating days. The aerobic intervals consisted of maximal or nearly maximal efforts with some workouts as short as 30-second maximal effort. Other workouts were lighter but all ranging from 70 to 100% of maximal effort.

The study was an overall success and showed that “faster might be better than farther”. As a matter of fact, high intensity interval training combined with weightlifting and a balanced diet is optimal to effectively combat muscle atrophy, bone loss and cardiovascular deconditioning – even when performed from ‘resting in bed’. A comparative study – named “Sprint” – is now being performed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The two studies, iRAT and Sprint, use similar exercise regimens and equipment.

While the results are interesting primarily for space trips, with travelling to Mars being on the top of the list, they might have potential benefits to life on Earth, where hospital-based deconditioning is a huge issue and could be lessened or prevented with exercise done from a bed each day.

A link to the video explaining the research can be found here.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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