Is it possible to prevent muscular atrophy in microgravity (space station, spacecraft etc.) by proper exercises?

Urban dwellers here on Earth can train/develop arm muscles to the equivalent of their ancestors - who used those muscles far more. It could be theoretically possible to substitute "working" with legs under Earth gravitation by intense exercises with specialized fitness equipment.

Are there any successes with preparing such set of exercises? Or, is exercise deemed trivial - do astronauts have enough time to exercise so hard while on space station?


On the International Space Station, crewmembers regularly exercise to help maintain their muscle/bone mass. A number of scientific studies have been done (here's one) on the effectiveness of their exercise regimen, and it appears that even with their rather modest amount of exercise (5 hr/wk), the decrease in muscle mass is slight and more of a muscle relocation than a loss anyway. Exercise regimens have improved since that study was published, and other techniques, such as wearing a heavy shirt, have been proposed to boost the effects of exercise.

So long story short, yes, exercise does help prevent bone/muscle loss in microgravity situations. While we haven't perfected the techniques yet, we've probably refined the exercise regimens required so that even if astronauts might lose some muscle, it likely won't result in any long-term damage.


Gravity turns out to be an extremely convenient force when you want to exercise. Here on Earth, we mostly use it for two purposes. The more obvious of the two is that it provides resistance to work against: either your own bodyweight (when running, doing pull-ups, etc) or the weight of other objects (when lifting weights).

The less obvious use of gravity is that it holds objects in place or pulls them back into place. Without gravity, you'd never be able to run for more than one step: you'd launch into the air and never come back down. When you swim, gravity holds you on the surface of the water, and it holds the water in the pool. Even when you're lifting weights, you have to put the weights down from time to time, and while you do this, gravity is what holds you onto the bench or floor.

When you're in a microgravity environment, you can't use gravity for either of these things, but you still need to address both issues in some way. This is what we're still perfecting, though we have made progress.


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