Exercise is an important part of life in space for astronauts. It can leave them in good condition so that they stand the best possible chance of dealing with difficult situations quickly and with ease, while ensuring they are fit enough to cope well when they set foot on Earth once more.
Although exercise is sometimes thought of as being fun where a lack of gravity is concerned, keeping fit is a serious business for all who venture away from Earths orbit. A strict exercise regimen, consisting of two and a half hours each day using specialised equipment is a necessary venture for all astronauts.
Why exercise is important
The human body wasn't designed to travel above the Earths atmosphere. Luckily we have exceeded original capabilities mother nature blessed us with physically, by using extraordinary brain power. However, we do still have to take precautions against how our bodies behave under abnormal conditions.
How the human body reacts to space
Several things can happen to astronauts bodies during a mission when aboard a space shuttle. To begin with, without sufficient exercise their muscles can begin to weaken, making walking when they return to Earth difficult and painful. Therapy can remedy this, however, bone mass lost cannot readily be replaced.
If you have ever suffered from lightheadedness when rising too quickly you can understand a little of what an astronaut who has refrained from exercising would experience, only for them it would be far worse. The lightheadedness, called Orthostatic Intolerance, happens as a persons heart rate increases and their blood pressure follows suit in order to keep a flow of blood pumping to their heart.
The result of this condition, coupled with a lack of gravity, can make astronauts faint. In order to keep this from occurring individuals have to keep their blood volume up and their circulation healthy via exercise.
Another reason for astronauts to keep their blood levels correct is because in space microgravity causes them to lose body fluids, including plasma which is where red blood cells reside. Exercise increases plasma levels.
Daily walking or running on a treadmill is probably considered to be more of a joy to an astronaut than as part of the daily grind. Not only does such exercise help to increase plasma and reduce the likelihood of fainting and weakened muscles, but it allows them to let off steam and produce endorphins which make them feel good too.
As floating is a possibility those exercising use a harness to keep them firmly planted on the walking surface. Apart from this addition to the exercising regimen, using a treadmill on board a shuttle is pretty much like it is back on Earth.
This piece of equipment is similar to a bicycle. It is pedaled when in use and can measure the fitness of the operator by checking their heart rate.
Resistance exercise device
Otherwise known as RED, the resistance exercise device resembles a weight lifting machine in appearance. It can provide a complete body workout as users twist rubber cords which stretch and are attached to pulleys. It is possible to accomplish every exercise from heel raises to squats when using RED.
Exercise provides astronauts with the physical fitness required of them and important feel good chemicals necessary to stop them feeling sluggish and depressed. It also leaves them healthy and able to transition back to their own environment more easily.