Microgravity: living on the International Space Station
Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

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Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

6.1 Practical experiment 2

Practical experiment 2: Measuring your heart rate and respiration

For this experiment, you are going to take some measurements of your heart rate and respiration after three activities: sitting down, lying down and after some moderate exercise. You will only need a timer (on a smartphone for example), a chair and somewhere to lie down comfortably. It would be great if you could use an inclined bed like that used in Video 1.

If taking part in these activities is difficult for you, please watch the following videos and then use the alternative data provided in Table 4a and 4b below.

First, watch Video 3 which introduces this experiment and demonstrates the first activity..

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3 Introduction to Practical experiment 2

Transcript: Video 3 Introduction to Practical experiment 2

HELEN:
So now we're going to do a practical experiment, which is going to show you how your vital signs change depending on what you're doing. We're going to do an experiment that measures our respiration rate and our pulse rate. First, either just when we wake up or when we've been lying down for a long time, second, when we've been sitting resting for a while, and third, when we've been doing some exercise. And then we're going to take averages of these results that we measure. And then we're going to compare those with what happens to astronauts when they're in microgravity environments.
So let's start by getting together all the equipment we really need. First, you need a timing device. You can either use a shower timer, a stopwatch if you happen to have one around or, to be honest this is ideal, your smartphone. So let's start with the first part of the experiment, lying down.
The best time to do this is as you wake up. Set your timer on your smartphone to five minutes, and press Start. And now leave that until the alarm goes off.
The great thing is you could have this extra five minutes in bed. But if it's later in the day and you haven't had a chance, you're rushing off to school or work, then you can alternatively do this experiment by lying down and raising your feet slightly in the air, as Tom is demonstrating here. Lie very still. Stay resting until your buzzer goes off. But please remember that, if you have any kind of medical condition or problem that precludes you from doing this, we have provided an alternative set of data for you to look at after you've watched this video so that you can still understand what's going on without doing the experiment.
[PHONE ALARM RINGING]
So, when your five minutes resting is up, what we need to do is we need to measure your pulse and also your respiration rate. And we need to repeat each of those measurements three times. All the details of how to then average this information is included in the text. But let's have a quick look at how we make those measurements.
You'll notice, in fact, that, while Tom is lying down and I'm sitting here, that makes it a little bit easier to make the measurements. But don't worry. It's perfectly possible to do this on your own.
You need two key pieces of equipment for this stage. You might actually use if, you have one, a fitness belt, or a watch, or anything that actually measures your heart rate. That can give you the number quite quickly and easily and saves you doing the measurement.
But let's have a look, just in case you haven't got one of those. Tom's now going to show you very carefully how he measures his pulse. He takes the first two fingers of one hand and puts them carefully against his wrist just below where the angle comes from his thumb to his wrist.
If you press gently, not too hard, you should be able to feel your pulse slowly pulsating against your fingers. Never use your thumb to take your pulse, because inside your thumb, there actually is a pulse. And then it will be very difficult to measure.
So Tom would, if he was doing it on his own, and luckily I'm here to help him, then start his timer for one minute. And I'm going to ask Tom, when I say go, to count out loud every time he can feel his pulse going. Are you ready to, Tom?
TOM:
I am, Helen.
HELEN:
Excellent. Ready, steady, go.
TOM:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6... 54, 55, 56.
[PHONE ALARM RINGING]
HELEN:
56. So I've written down the number of pulses that we measured for Tom in a minute. And we're going to repeat that measurement two more times so that, later on, by looking at the text, we can average them. The next thing we need to do is to measure his respiration rate.
And actually, that isn't as easy as it seems. Because quite often, if you count it yourself, you can speed up and slow down. So I'm going to have a look at how Tom's chest is rising and falling as he breathes and time that over a minute. So are you ready, Tom?
TOM:
Yes.
HELEN:
Excellent. Let's go. 1, 2... 11.
[PHONE ALARM RINGING]
I'm going to write that down, 11. And then I'm going to repeat that measurement two more times. And all of that information concludes the information we have about your vital signs, your pulse, and your respiration rate when you're lying down or, if you did it when you woke up first thing in the morning, when you're waking up first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.
End transcript: Video 3 Introduction to Practical experiment 2
Video 3 Introduction to Practical experiment 2
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Remember that you will need to find your pulse to measure your heart rate. If you place two fingers (not your thumb!) on the pulse point in your neck, you should feel your pulse.

Measuring your respiration is just counting the number of breaths you take in (inhale). It is easier if you find someone else who can count this while you are counting your heart rate.

Now complete Activity 5.

Activity 5 Counting heart rate and respiration when lying down

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

Use the tables below to record your results when lying down.

Table 1a

Heart rateReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
lying down
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Table 1b

RespirationReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
lying down
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Now watch Video 4 which shows how to measure your heart rate in a sitting position. Then complete Activity 6.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 Measuring your heart rate and respiration when sitting

Transcript: Video 4 Measuring your heart rate and respiration when sitting

HELEN:
So Tom is just finishing the second part of this experiment. He's been sitting down resting for around five minutes. Have you enjoyed your rest, Tom?
TOM:
Definitely. Thank you.
HELEN:
Excellent.
So as we saw when Tom was lying on the floor earlier on, when the five minutes are up, we need to measure his respiration rate and his pulse. And we need to repeat those measurements for one minute three times over so that we can find an average.
So let's just show you how we're going to take his pulse right now sitting down.
So Tom, can you find your pulse? Are you still alive?
TOM:
Take two fingers. Place it round about the thumb. And you will start feeling the pulse. Hopefully I'm still alive. And then press lightly. And then start counting as it's going through.
So I can feel the pulse, one, two, three, four... ...64, 65, 66.
I've counted them for a minute. And I write down my details. A 66 pulse rate in a minute in the table. And I've finished that part.
HELEN:
And then you're going to repeat that another two times, Tom.
TOM:
Yep.
HELEN:
Just so that we've got two more measurements.
So when you've measured your pulse rate three times, we then need to move on to measure your respiration rate.
So Tom, have you reset the stopwatch ready for a minute?
TOM:
I have, Hellen. Yeah.
HELEN:
Excellent. So Tom, over to you to explain your respiration measurement.
TOM:
Before I start the measurement I'm here counting my breath of the minute.
Also, I can't talk at the same time. As I start the timer, I will count the breaths.
HELEN:
So Tom is now counting in his head the breaths. It's a pretty difficult thing to do to count your breaths. So if somebody happens to be around, one of your children, your partner, a friend, sometimes it's really helpful that they're watching you, and counting how many times your chest is rising and falling as you do this.
Often when we think consciously about how much we're breathing, our breathing rate can speed up or slow down.
So Tom, that's the end of the minute. How many breaths did you count?
TOM:
30. I counted 30. So I can write that down into the table again now that I've finished it.
HELEN:
And now you're going to repeat that measurement again two more times.
TOM:
Indeed.
HELEN:
Excellent.
OK. And when you've done that, that's the second part of the experiment completed. So now we're going to move on to the exercise part of the experiment.
End transcript: Video 4 Measuring your heart rate and respiration when sitting
Video 4 Measuring your heart rate and respiration when sitting
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Activity 6 Counting heart rate and respiration when sitting

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Give yourself a few moments to relax and then count the number of times your heart beats in one minute (60 seconds). You will also need to record the number of breaths you take in 60 seconds (respiration).

Table 2a

Heart rateReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
sitting
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Table 2b

RespirationReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
sitting
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Now watch Video 5 which shows how to measure your heart rate after doing some moderate exercise, for example jogging on the spot, or walking up and down stairs. Then complete Activity 7.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 5
Skip transcript: Video 5 Measuring your heart rate and respiration after moderate exercise

Transcript: Video 5 Measuring your heart rate and respiration after moderate exercise

HELEN:
So Tom, for the last part of this experiment, you're going to get to do some exercise.
TOM:
Fantastic.
HELEN:
Are you ready for that?
TOM:
Indeed, yep.
HELEN:
Just wait a moment, then. So the important thing about this exercise is it shouldn't be more than five minutes and it doesn't have to be something super strenuous. It just has to be enough to elevate your heart rate. So you can be walking up and down the hallway, you can be jogging on the spot, you could be doing star jumps, you can be stepping up and down if you've got stairs, say, from the ground floor up and down the first couple of steps and back down again, nothing too complicated at all. So I'm going to set Tom going with his five minutes of exercise. Tom, are you ready?
TOM:
I'm ready, yep, definitely.
HELEN:
Off you go.
TOM:
Thank you. OK, so star jumps, for example, we could be doing something fairly light. And count out three, four, I've got star jumps. Running on the spot, anything to get your heart rate up.
HELEN:
Oh, Tom, you're nearly there. 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 1.
[ALARM]
You can stop.
TOM:
Thank you.
HELEN:
Well done.
TOM:
Thank you.
HELEN:
Now, it's very important, quite quickly, that we do those pulse measurements and respiration measurements all over again. So Tom, I'll set this one minute, you can out loud. Off you go.
TOM:
1, 2, , 3 4, 5, 6... 96, 97.
[ALARM]
HELEN:
97. Well done, Tom. I'll go and write that down in just a minute, but we also need to make sure we measure your respiration rate. Are you ready to count that as well?
TOM:
Yeah.
HELEN:
Let me start that one minute. Are you ready?
TOM:
Yep.
HELEN:
Go.
TOM:
1, 2, 3.
HELEN:
So Tom is going to count under his breath so that he's not using his breath. But it's really important to remember that, of course, it can help you to use somebody to count by watching your chest like we've done at all the other occasions.
TOM:
34
[ALARM]
HELEN:
So 34 breaths.
TOM:
Yep.
HELEN:
Let's go and record that information and remember to measure your pulse and your respiration rate.
End transcript: Video 5 Measuring your heart rate and respiration after moderate exercise
Video 5 Measuring your heart rate and respiration after moderate exercise
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Activity 7 Counting heart rate and respiration after moderate exercise

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Measure your heart rate and the number of breaths you take in 60 seconds whilst doing some form of moderate exercise.

Table 3a

Heart rateReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
moderate exercise
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Table 3b

RespirationReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
moderate exercise
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Now watch Video 6, which discusses recording your results and calculating the averages.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 6
Skip transcript: Video 6 Recording your results and calculating averages.

Transcript: Video 6 Recording your results and calculating averages.

HELEN:
So here I am filling in Tom's final data. And now what we need to do is to go back to the text and find out how we calculate the averages of our pulse rate and our respiration rate in each of the three states, lying down, at rest, and after exercise. And then, as any good scientist will do, we're going to compare our results and see what we can learn about that and how we can compare it to the environment that astronauts are in in microgravity.
End transcript: Video 6 Recording your results and calculating averages.
Video 6 Recording your results and calculating averages.
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Now calculate your averages by using Equation 1. Please note that you should round your final average answer to 2 significant figures.

cap a times v times e times r times a times g times e postfix times equation left hand side r times e times a times d times i times n times g equals right hand side Re times a times d times i times n times g postfix times prefix times of one plus Re times a times d times i times n times g postfix times prefix times of two plus Re times a times d times i times n times g postfix times three divided by three
Equation label: Equation 1

What were your results? Don’t worry if you weren’t able to complete the activities. The results for Tom’s activities are provided in Table 4a and 4b.

Table 4a Tom’s results for Practical experiment 2

Heart rate
ActivityReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
lying down56535555
sitting 66676466
moderate exercise979510298

Table 4b Tom’s results for Practical experiment 2

Respiration
 ActivityReading 1Reading 2Reading 3Average
lying down11131011
sitting30293230
moderate exercise34323534

You can now compare your results with Figure 9. The two charts are for men and women, divided into age ranges. You won’t be surprised to know that, to be an astronaut, you would probably have to meet the ‘athlete’ criteria! Resting heart rate is in the sitting position.

Described image
Figure 9 Resting heart rates for men and women.

When you experience stress or take exercise, your heart rate increases. Look at Figure 10 which shows the heartbeat of astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930–2012) as he landed Apollo 11 on the surface of the Moon in 1969.

Described image
Figure 10 Recordings of the heartbeats of the Apollo 11 crew.

Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin were in the lunar module while Mike Collins was in orbit around the Moon. You can see that Armstrong’s heart rate increased substantially at the ‘lunar touchdown’. There might have been issues with measuring the heart rates of Collins and Aldrin at key points, judging by the ‘flat line’ traces, but they were clearly still alive! Armstrong’s heart rate then reduced during the ‘extra-vehicle activity’ (EVA) when he walked on the Moon’s surface. Finally, his heart rate reduced more on lunar lift-off.

Now you will look at the heart rates of human beings compared with other animals.

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