Bed rest studies of the past 20 years are reviewed. Head-down bed rest (HDBR) has proved its usefulness as a reliable simulation model for the most physiological effects of spaceflight. As well as continuing to search for better understanding of the physiological changes induced, these studies focused mostly on identifying effective countermeasures with encouraging but limited success. HDBR is characterised by immobilization, inactivity, confinement and elimination of Gz gravitational stimuli, such as posture change and direction, which affect body sensors and responses. These induce upward fluid shift, unloading the body's upright weight, absence of work against gravity, reduced energy requirements and reduction in overall sensory stimulation. The upward fluid shift by acting on central volume receptors induces a 10-15% reduction in plasma volume which leads to a now well-documented set of cardiovascular changes including changes in cardiac performance and baroreflex sensitivity that are identical to those in space. Calcium excretion is increased from the beginning of bed rest leading to a sustained negative calcium balance. Calcium absorption is reduced. Body weight, muscle mass, muscle strength is reduced, as is the resistance of muscle to insulin. Bone density, stiffness of bones of the lower limbs and spinal cord and bone architecture are altered. Circadian rhythms may shift and are dampened. Ways to improve the process of evaluating countermeasures--exercise (aerobic, resistive, vibration), nutritional and pharmacological--are proposed. Artificial gravity requires systematic evaluation. This review points to clinical applications of BR research revealing the crucial role of gravity to health.