Monday, August 25, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Q&A

Solarmist (City not named) asks: Everyone maintains the same weight during the study, so that means they're making everyone fatter, by a good deal. Even though you have exercise in your schedules you're still going to lose muscle from lack of use and thus gain fat to keep you at the same weight. Wouldn't it make more sense to maintain body composition? Rather than weight?
Pillownaut answers: Our caloric intake is based on the Harris-Benedict equation, which considers height, weight, age & activity factors. By losing muscle mass but staying at the same "kilogram count," we are indeed replacing the loss with body fat, but not a huge amount. Their BMI requirement was very narrow, and we all had exceptionally low body fat to begin with. Just like astronauts, our overall health was among the reasons we were selected in the first place… and we don't get to change, offer input or question the NASA protocols.
Sarcasmo answers: I gained a bit at first, lost some when I first went head-down, but now I’m not fluctuating at all. Everything they said my body would do in terms of reaction has happened. I’m not worried about fat, and it will be easy to regain muscle again. It was all in the brochure. Like we said to the gent in the last Q&A who asked about exercise, “maintaining body composition” isn’t the goal. The aim it is to simulate what happens in space. Loss of muscle and replacement with fat cells is what happens in space.

Karin from Walnut Creek, CA asks: Looks like you spend a lot of time working ‘upwards,’ reaching for your laptop, or holding up a book to read. Doesn’t that exercise your arm muscles in ways that contradicts the rest of the study?
Pillownaut answers: Negative… we are encouraged to use our upper bodies. Astronauts use their arms and shoulders quite a bit. Just getting around in the space station requires armholds; its the legs that float more freely. They also type, write, hold books open, etc. In micro-gravity, there is far less weight to push or pull about, but they still come up against resistance. On spacewalks or repairs, they may also do precision tasks requiring pressure and muscle work. In a typical workday, crew members spend 12 hours working, 2 hours exercising, 1.5 hours preparing and eating meals, and 8.5 hours sleeping. So, they actually do far more than we can from a bed. They also have bikes, a rowing machine, and a floating treadmill (not anchored, so its vibrations don’t upset other experiments). For our protocols in mimicry, it's important to use the arms, but we’re told simply to keep the head and shoulders down.

Bonnie R in Boulder, CO asks: Sorry if this sounds stupid, but if you aren’t trying to stay in shape why do they bother with exercises at all? Wouldn’t the project take less time if you didn’t?
Pillownaut answers: Good point and I’m sorry, I should have elaborated on this last time (but sometimes these Q&A posts get pretty long, so I tend to answer the direct inquiry without deviating.) Anyway, NO question is stupid. Sometimes we are told things 3 or 4 times by various staff as we learn protocols, so we hear reasons repeatedly... but we can easily forget it may not be obvious to everyone else. This is a good example. When we say the word “exercise,” it may automatically conjure the assumption that we attempt to “stay in shape” or avoid muscle loss. However, the stretching routines are aimed primarily at AVOIDING BLOOD CLOTS, not so much for conditioning or flexibility. Thrombus becomes a health concern the longer you are head-down.
Sarcasmo answers: As time goes by, there are also changes in how nurses check us each day. They used to just check foot pulse; now they also press for shin pulse, ask me to press down with my feet, they bend my ankles, feel around the calves, and in any given area they probe for pain, soreness or tingling. The massages also change, first focusing on the back, but later more on legs and feet to ensure they stimulate circulation and again, avoid blood clots.

Dave asks: Okay so give it up, how many pull-ups DID you do?
Pillownaut answers: On the first baseline physical, that would be a raging NINE pull-ups before I said o dear me no, this isn't working for me. No matter how far or fast I can run, or what I can lift on machines, pull-ups just make me feel like a huge wimp. At the second session, I did twelve, and then I think I died for a few minutes. Brent, the exercise physiologist, peeled me off the floor and made all kinds of warm, fuzzy noises at me about how great I was doing… but I have been in contact with just enough fitness trainers to know that is Gym-Speak for: “They pay me to be encouraging even if you suck at this.”

Hockey Chica Barbie2b asks: When you have group movie nights do they show the movie on the ceiling so that you can all see it?
Pillownaut answers: Nah, they just project it off Devin’s ego... it’s the only thing around here that’s big enough.
Sarcasmo answers: Yeah yeah, its big, but its not a projection…actually just a reflection from the TV, which we just view sideways. I wondered why they were always STARING at me during movie night…thought it was because I am just so very handsome and they all wanted me.
Pillownaut: Well thank you for that Johnny Bravo moment.
Sarcasmo: Anytime.