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Can you really simulate astronaut training exercises at home?

You might be forgiven for wondering how astronaut training relates to your exercises at home.  Since the year 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) has been a temporary home for more than 230 intrepid male and female astronauts. Apart from cosmic radiation, one of the biggest health risks for ISS astronauts is the loss of bone and muscle tissue.  A really important reason to continuing their exercises in space.

These drastic changes to the muscles and bones are caused by microgravity: the floating freefall experienced by astronauts as the ISS orbits the earth at a height of around 400km (250 miles).

A loss of bone and muscle density isn’t just a problem for space travellers. These gradual changes are a natural part of the ageing process. Does this mean that we must all accept decreasing fitness and flexibility beyond the age of 50?

In this fitness blog post, we find out if the astronaut training exercises used on the International Space Station can be adapted for use in our own homes.

In-flight ISS astronaut training exercises

For European astronauts working on the International Space Station, 2.5 hours of compulsory exercise is part of the daily routine. Typically, this breaks down into 1.5 hours of physical exercise, with the extra hour spent preparing the equipment and cleaning up after the workout.

Just like fitness programmes here on Earth, the two main exercise groups cover; cardiovascular (aerobic) workouts and resistance exercises to maintain bone and muscle mass.

Although space exercise equipment is modified to work in low gravity, the space station’s cycle ergometers, treadmills and Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) are very much like the exercise bikes, treadmills and multi-gyms that you can buy for home use.

Even though the resistive, bone and muscle building exercises are carried out in virtually weightless conditions, the adapted ARED multigym allows astronauts to perform deadlifts, squats, crunches, bench presses and similar exercises, just like a workout at home or in your local gym.

NHS exercise guidelines for adults aged 50+

Unlike the ISS astronauts, we feel the full effects of gravity when we’re walking, running or doing daily chores. By the time we reach the age of 50, many of us begin to experience muscle wastage and loss of bone density, just like weightless astronauts in space.

One of the best sources of reliable exercise advice in the UK is the NHS website. On their physical activity guidelines page, they offer practical advice on muscle-strengthening activities and aerobic workouts.

Exercise advise for body strength

To build or maintain muscle, the NHS recommends that you work on moderate body strengthening activities for a minimum of 150 minutes each week. If you can manage higher intensity activities, like active sports or a gym workout, you can reduce the time to a minimum of 75 minutes per week.

The big benefit of muscle development activity is that it also increases bone density.

Aerobic exercise advice to improve fitness

Aerobic exercises improves the body’s cardiovascular functions. Activities that make you breathless, like jogging, cycling and dance workouts, all help to improve your lung capacity, heart-health and circulation.

Though there is some overlap between muscle fitness and aerobic activity, the NHS suggests that it’s best to divide your weekly exercise schedules into separate ‘strengthening’ and ‘aerobic’ sessions. Just like the body strengthening exercises, 150 minutes is recommended as the weekly minimum for moderate aerobic exercise.

Tips for exercising at home

If you have access to a local gym, it’s easy to follow an astronaut style exercise routine by using a treadmill, multi-gym machine and exercise bike.

However, if you prefer to exercise at home, it could cost about £2000 minimum to buy these 3 items from some of the most popular manufacturers.

If the cost of gym membership or equipment is likely to stretch your budget, it’s easy to start a home fitness programme with some inexpensive exercise equipment.

The best low-cost home workout equipment for body strength

Resistance Bands come in many shapes and designs.  These simple elasticated bands are great for the moderate body strength exercises recommended by the NHS. Resistance bands are normally bought in multi-packs and can be combined to provide a tougher workout.

Dumbbells are a classic exercise aid that never goes out of style.  Pairs of dumbbells can be bought singly, or in low-cost sets.  An Adjustable Dumbbell Set will cost a little more, but the extra investment will help with your transition to heavier weights as your body strength increases.

Kettlebells are special weights that are great for increasing the effectiveness of squats, shoulder presses and lunges. As well as being good for muscle work, they can also be swung as part of a cardiovascular workout.

There are hundreds of YouTube videos that will show you how to get started with kettlebells, resistance bands and basic weights. A short training session at a local gym is even better. This will help you to choose the best band resistances and weights to meet your personal training goals.

Inexpensive home exercise equipment for cardio workouts

Before recommending the best aerobic exercise equipment for home workouts, we need to mention that Brisk Walking, Jogging, Cycling and Sports will all count towards your weekly cardio workout targets. Any activity that makes you breathless can become part of your regular aerobic routine.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to equip your home gym with an Adjustable Aerobic Stepper. Did you know that you can do the Charleston dance on your stepper to make exercising more fun? Most boxers know that a Skipping Rope is great for a cardio workout as well as fancy footwork.

Floor exercises at home without gym equipment

Even without exercise equipment, it’s still possible to improve general fitness while maintaining bone and muscle mass. In their ‘Train Like an Astronaut’ programme, NASA mentions the following floor exercises.

  • Abdominal muscle squeezes
  • Aerobics
  • Crunches
  • Jumps
  • Planks (isometric forearm push-ups)
  • Push-ups (seated, bench, table, wall etc.)
  • Squats
  • Toe touches
  • Twists

Fitness health checks & warm-ups

Before starting your own Earth-based astronaut exercise programme, it’s probably wise to review your current state of health and fitness. If you’re 50 or over and you haven’t had a check-up for a while, why not make an appointment for an NHS Health Check?

Through regular exercise can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, women, in particular, need to be aware of specific exercises that should be avoided. Download the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s pamphlet, Exercise and osteoporosis for full details.

For more home workout tips, inspiration and support, why not join other Fit Fab 50 Plus readers on Facebook? Finally, remember to warm-up before each workout. This will avoid the prospect of suffering an injury that will sabotage your health and fitness efforts!