Female astronauts lose more strength and muscle mass and have a longer post-mission recovery period than male astronauts, according to a research review conducted by a national team of researchers assembled by NASA, including the college’s Dr. Sandra Hunter, associate professor of exercise science. The review, coordinated in conjunction with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, examined the “Impact of Sex and Gender on Adaptations to Space.”
Hunter is a leading expert in gender-based neuromuscular research. NASA selected Hunter to review the latest findings on sex and gender differences in the musculoskeletal system during space flight.
“Our review found that space flight in general resulted in marked reductions in muscle strength and power, as much as 20 to 30 percent in two to three months,” Hunter says. “There’s evidence that women have even greater losses of muscle strength and mass than men when talking about the effects of space flight.”
In addition, the team found that strength loss equates to roughly double the loss of muscle mass, and women may take longer to recover post-flight.
“Our findings indicate that much more research is required to fully understand sex differences in response to muscle loss,” Hunter says. “But it also shows that there are definite differences that will be apparent.”
The research teams presented their findings at a NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) workshop on Tuesday, June 25, and will publish their research at a later date. The purpose of the review and workshop is to identify research priorities specific to gender physiology that could be mission-critical for future space flight missions.
NASA recently announced eight new astronauts – its first group in four years – and four of the eight are women, the highest percentage ever chosen.