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Researchers at Beckman Institute are helping astronauts stay fit

A blond woman in a red shirt and black pants is flanked by two men on either side of her. They are standing in a room with exercise equipment in the background.
Photo from Beckman Institute website.

If you are hanging out in space for months at a time, it’s pretty difficult to utilize hand weights or do a proper sit up or push up without gravity working against you. Because of that, astronauts aren’t able to sufficiently keep their muscles in the shape they need to be. According to Professor Marni Boppart, “astronauts can lose up to 20% of muscle mass after just two weeks, and 1-2% of bone mineral density every month.” With talk of eventual missions to Mars, that poses a significant problem.

Boppart, a professor of kinesiology and community health and Beckman researcher, and her colleagues, are developing a solution with the help of a $1 million grant from Translational Research Institute for Space Health. They are looking into using cell regeneration to mimic the benefits of exercise. In basic terms, our bodies generate “extracellular vesicles” to ease the transfer of chemicals to our cells when we stress them out with exercise. Boppart is looking to recreate that effect:

“The broad aim of Boppart’s study is to use extracellular vesicles generated naturally by volunteers on Earth, or even artificially, to replicate the restorative effect of exercise in astronauts, essentially enabling their muscles to engage in post-exercise recovery without ever having to lift a space-suited finger.”

You can read a more detailed description of the process on Beckman’s website. The study is set to begin in October 2023.

Here’s hoping that some day we can all forgo the sit ups and push ups…right? One can dream.

Managing Editor

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