Cardiac Effects of Long-Duration Space Flight

Shigeki Shibata, Denis J. Wakeham, James D. Thomas, Shuaib M. Abdullah, Steven Platts, Michael W. Bungo, Benjamin D. Levine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Ventricular mass responds to changes in physical activity and loading, with cardiac hypertrophy after exercise training, and cardiac atrophy after sustained inactivity. Ventricular wall stress (ie, loading) decreases during microgravity. Cardiac atrophy does not plateau during 12 weeks of simulated microgravity but is mitigated by concurrent exercise training. Objectives: The goal of this study was to determine whether the current exercise countermeasures on the International Space Station (ISS) offset cardiac atrophy during prolonged space flight. Methods: We measured left ventricular (LV) and right ventricular (RV) mass and volumes (via magnetic resonance imaging) in 13 astronauts (4 females; age 49 ± 4 years), between 75 and 60 days before and 3 days after 155 ± 31 days aboard the ISS. Furthermore, we assessed total cardiac work between 21 and 7 days before space flight and 15 days before the end of the mission. Data were compared via paired-samples t-tests. Results: Total cardiac work was lower during space flight (P = 0.008); however, we observed no meaningful difference in LV mass postflight (pre: 115 ± 30 g vs post: 118 ± 29 g; P = 0.053), with marginally higher LV stroke volume (P = 0.074) and ejection fraction postflight (P = 0.075). RV mass (P = 0.999), RV ejection fraction (P = 0.147), and ventricular end-diastolic (P = 0.934) and end-systolic volumes (P = 0.145) were not different postflight. There were strong positive correlations between the relative change in LV mass with the relative changes in total cardiac output (r = 0.73; P = 0.015) and total cardiac work (r = 0.53; P = 0.112). Conclusions: The current exercise countermeasures used on the ISS appear effective in offsetting reductions in cardiac mass and volume, despite overall reductions in total cardiac work, during prolonged space flight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)674-684
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American College of Cardiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 22 2023


  • cardiac
  • countermeasures
  • deconditioning
  • space flight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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