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Staying in Space for Longer Periods of Time Shrinks Astronaut Hearts, Exercise Can't Help Either

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Researchers have divulged the findings of a study that could be potentially a cause of concern for future astronauts-those who stay in space for long duration can experience shrinking of the heart and exercising is not of much help either. Researchers had studied data found from retired astronaut Scott Kelly’s space stay at the International Space Station (ISS) from 2015 to 2016 and found the effect of the travel similar to that of endurance swimmer Benoît Lecomte’s laps across the Pacific in 2018. The effects of long-term stay in water is similar to that of the feeling of weightlessness in space, reports said.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, found that both the men lost mass in their heart’s left ventricle over time. In case of Kelly, the study found that being exposed to long-term weightlessness changes the shape of the heart, i.e; shrinks it and exercising does not help much either to alter that. The gravity on earth is the reason that keeps the human heart pumping blood and also maintaining the size it has.

Kelly, who lived in the ISS from March 2015 to March 2016 worked out six days in a week on a stationary bike and treadmill for two hours. Lecomte, who swam from June 5 to November 1 in 2018, covered 1,753 miles and swam for about six hours daily.

The findings of the study are seen as a serious point of worry for astronauts in the near future as with increasing space travels now and in coming years, shrinking of heart can be a serious problem as it also reduces bone density and degrades muscles.

“The heart is remarkably plastic and especially responsive to gravity or its absence,” said leader of the study Professor Benjamin D. Levine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre. “Both the impact of gravity as well as the adaptive response to exercise play a role, and we were surprised that even extremely long periods of low-intensity exercise did not keep the heart muscle from shrinking,” he spoke of the findings.

Researchers are now trying to study the findings more efficiently to understand how the microgravity can influence cardiac function.

As part of its future expeditions, NASA is now exposing its astronauts to microgravity for longer durations in order to help them get prepared for Mars mission.


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