Exercise in Space
Each Station crew member is scheduled for an hour of cardio (either treadmill or cycle ergometer) and an hour of resistive exercise (the equivalent of weightlifting) each day while we are on orbit. With these exercises, we are trying to minimize the negative physiological effects of living in a microgravity environment, where the lack of gravity for just the normal “walking or sitting around,” means that our muscles and bone are deteriorating at faster than normal rates as compared to on Earth.
Image at right: Commander Peggy Whitson exercises in the Destiny laboratory on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA
I like to exercise, but the additional incentive to reduce these negative physiological impacts of living in space drive me to work out regularly. Returning to a normal gravity environment after a 6-month mission was challenging last time, in spite of the fact that I worked out routinely on my last mission as well. So, the desire to be able to walk and function normally when I return is a good motivator. A more real time motivator while I am up here is the need to be ready for a space walk. For this mission I have been lucky enough to be able to participate in 3 space walks (EVAs). Being in the pressurized space suit for 7 hours, while trying to accomplish hand-intensive assembly or repair tasks, is another huge motivator for me (don’t want to look weak while everyone is watching!). My motto when it comes to EVAs is that “you can never be too strong.”
Successful long duration expeditions, whether to the poles of our Earth, the peak of a mountain, below the ocean, or up here in space, require a positive outlook. I advise rookie crew members that the self-knowledge of what things can keep you happy and help maintain a positive outlook is a critical aspect of preparation for long duration space flight. There is a psychological aspect of exercise that I value, both personally, as well as, for the overall mission goals. Both here on orbit or (even more so) on the ground, I use exercise as a stress reliever (Peggy gets cranky without exercise). I always feel more relaxed after working out. While I have never been a big believer in that whole endorphin thing, I do get a sense of satisfaction from working out that positively lifts my attitude. So for me, exercise is not only a critical physical component to life up here, it has an important psychological component too.