September 17th, 2008
10:17 AM ET

Making gravity work for you

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

This week, I did a series of pieces about how astronauts stay fit in space. Sure, it was fascinating to be strapped into a system of pulleys and harnesses that effectively simulate weightlessness. It was interesting to be pulled up to a vertical treadmill or eZLS – the enhanced zero gravity locomotion system. And, yes, I got to be an astronaut for a day, experiencing firsthand what it may feel like to exercise in space. (watch video)
I learned that exercise in space, especially for those long missions, is essential for astronauts, not something you might do occasionally. It has to be comfortable to do and it cannot interfere with the function of the spacecraft. (read more)  More than that, though, I learned how beneficial gravity is for us on Earth. Doctors call it axial load. You can think of it as a slight tension on our bodies, more importantly our ligaments, tendons and bones. Turns out, this slight pulling of gravity slows down the loss of bone mass, which in space accelerates 10 times faster than a post-menopausal woman.

The message for the rest of us is to embrace gravity. In addition to your aerobic exercise, which you should do most days of the week, add some axial load to your routine. And, this is a message for everyone, especially women in their 40s and 50s who will have to deal with menopause. Pick up some dumbbells, park yourself under a bench press or learn how to use a cable system. It’s good for your health and for your bones.

Are you doing something to make gravity benefit your body?  

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.