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Staying in bed for science

14 December 2012
Do you know what happens to your body if you stay in a tilted bed for weeks with your head at the lower end? Your body starts to change as if it were ageing prematurely… or living in space!

Twelve people are taking part in an ESA study which consists of staying in bed with their head 6 degrees lower than the rest of their body for 21 days. The rule is that their hips and at least one shoulder must be in contact with the bed at all times, even when they eat, wash and go to the toilet.

As their muscles get weaker – one participant has lost almost four kilos – medical staff monitor them closely. The scientists want to see if exercise and/or protein supplements have an effect on the volunteers’ physical health, as it will help them to look after astronauts when they are in space.

Bedrest volunteer using resistive exercise machine
Bedrest snack
For this experiment, they have separated the volunteers into three groups. Two of these groups are following a short, intense exercise routine on a vibrating plate that exercises leg muscles. The exercise routine is repeated every three days. One of these two exercise groups is also taking protein supplements like bodybuilders use to increase their muscles.

The third group is not exercising or taking supplements. It is being used as a ‘control’ group, and is being monitored to compare results with the other two groups.

The volunteers are getting regular scans, blood tests and muscle biopsies. They are looking forward to the end of the year, when they can leave their sloping beds for four months of rehabilitation. They will return for another two 21-day experiments, each time taking part in a different test group.

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