Understanding the health impact of inactivity for the benefit of older adults and astronauts

Members of the research team
Members of the research team : Vita Sonjak, project manager, Guy Hajj-Boutros research coordinator, and Dr Jose Morais, principal investigator of the study and Chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the MUHC

A study using bed-rest as an analog to microgravity will provide data for eight Canadian research projects

The Centre for Innovative Medicine (CIM) of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) will soon host The Health Impacts of Inactivity Study - the first of its kind in Canada. Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in partnership with the Canadian Frailty Network and the Canadian Space Agency and set to start next spring, the study will integrate eight research projects looking at the effects of inactivity on the human body and the effectiveness of a countermeasure (physical exercise). The outcomes of this integrated research protocol will inform solutions for older adults and for astronauts on space missions. As their body doesn’t have to work against gravity, astronauts in space experience physical symptoms similar to accelerated aging and health problems common in sedentary populations.

Under the direction of Dr. Jose A. Morais, Chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the MUHC and a Senior Scientist at the RI-MUHC, 24 healthy men and women between 55 – 65 years of age will spend a total of 26 days (5 days of adaptation period, 14 days of bed rest, and 7 days of recovery period) at the CIM.

They will lie in bed, with their heads slightly tilted down for 14 days, to reproduce the effects of weightlessness on the body, such as fluid shifts, bone, muscle mass and strength loss, as well as cardiovascular, sensory and motor function and cognitive alterations. Half of the participants will randomly undergo some strength and aerobic exercises as a countermeasure - including High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as one of the aerobic components -3 times a day while laying down using adapted equipment.

The study will closely measure and monitor the participants’ biological changes throughout the study, using different imaging and state-of-the-art methods. It will also assess the impact of exercise as a way to maintain or restore cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and other functions.

This study will provide researchers from different institutions across Canada with data to discern how health problems appear in older adults who are bedridden for long periods of time because of injury and illness. Finally, it will be beneficial to space agencies seeking to conduct longer missions and future explorations to the Moon and Mars while protecting astronauts’ health.

Individuals interested in participating in the study, or who would like information on recruitment, please contact Sharmila Balram or Guy Hajj Boutros at 514 503 7135 or write to [email protected]


To learn more, read CIHR news release