Imagine a future where, instead of jumping on a treadmill, you could take a pill that gives you all the benefits of exercise — without the actual workout. Well, according to a new study, scientists are developing an "exercise pill" that could potentially do just that.
Published in Cell Metabolism, the findings show that exercise causes 1,000 molecular changes in skeletal muscles. The goal of the joint study by scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen is to identify the most important of these changes, and produce a pill that would replicate that.
"We've created an exercise blueprint that lays the foundation for future treatments and the end goal is to mimic the effects of exercise," said Dr. Nolan Hoffman, an author of the study and a research associate at the School of Molecular Bioscience from Sydney. "It's long been thought that there were many signals elicited by exercise, but we were the first to create this map and we now know the complexity."
Because it would be impossible for a pill to recreate 1,000 molecular changes in a body without having negative side effects, researchers plan on isolating only the most important changes for the potential drug.
The pill isn't being developed for couch potatoes.
But before skeptics claim that the pill will do nothing but make the already-lazy even more so, researchers say that the exercise pill could help those who would benefit from exercising, but can't because of health conditions — including the elderly, people with obesity, Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. For them, an exercise drug could have a significant effect.
The reality of such a drug is still a long way away — "at least a decade," Quartz quoted Hoffman as saying. The exercise blueprint itself took three years to create.
In a review of the concept of an exercise pill published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, co-author Ismail Laher, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said scientists are just not there yet.
Plus, for those still wary of its societal effect, Laher reassured: "It's not going to make a couch potato into Arnold Schwarzenegger."
Cover image via iStock / rkristoffersen