According to a new NASA release, astronauts suffer muscle shrinkage after spending too much time in space. The main problem is that microgravity affects the spine, eliminating its curvature. When this happens, the spinal muscles lose their integrity, leading to intense back pains when they return to normal gravity. The Space Agency is currently working on new ways of combating this problem.
Until recently, researchers believed that astronauts experienced back pains due to extra fluids that caused the spinal discs to swell up. However, after conducting several MRI scans on a sample of six astronauts, researchers at San Diego University discovered that the discs remained intact in space. The scientists found that the problem consisted in paraspinal muscles atrophying by roughly 19 percent.
Dorit Donoviel, chief scientist at the Space Biomedical National Research Institute believes that the findings make sense. When people don’t use their muscles, they lose muscle integrity. It happens on Earth, so it’s only natural for it to happen in space, too.
The study suggests that astronauts should change their daily exercise routines, focusing more on the affected muscles than on strengthening other muscle groups.
Moreover, the team believes that the current two-hour routine might contribute to the muscle shrinkage. According to them, the weights that astronauts lift are also damaging the spine. Instead, the researchers suggest that the men and women should do yoga, and wear gravity collars.
Yoga is an excellent way to strengthen core muscles. It’s also not that harsh on the body as lifting weights is, so the astronauts will not damage some group muscles while focusing on others.
The new discoveries are crucial as NASA is preparing for a Mars mission, the long journey towards the Red Planet taking a toll on the astronauts’ physical health. The Space Agency needs its recruits to be in the best shape possible as they should respond quickly to any emergencies that might appear during the long trip.
Astronaut’s Scott Kelly one year stay in space contributed to the findings, researchers managing to discover lots of potential problems that could come up during a long journey in zero gravity. For the moment, Kelly is still recovering from the experiment.
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