No chill pill: Scientists work on an exercise pill

An ‘exercise pill’ that can replicate the 1,000 molecular changes that occur in the body during a workout could be on its way. “We’ve created an exercise blueprint that lays the foundation for future treatments, and the end goal is to mimic the effects of exercise,” study author and research associate at the School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney Dr. Nolan Hoffman told “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.”

In the study, published in Cell Metabolism, four healthy males had a muscle biopsy before exercise, rode an exercise bicycle as hard as they could for 10 minutes, and then gave a second muscle sample. Their samples were shipped to Sydney to be examined. “We were definitely very thankful to these individuals, who not only gave their muscle samples to science but also before and after such a high intensity bout of exercise,” Hoffman said. The next step for the researchers is to identify the most meaningful biological changes before they can start to develop the actual drug. They intend to create an exercise blueprint for sick individuals, to establish the important differences from healthy people. “We are at the early stages of this exciting new field,” co-author Ismail Laher told Science Daily. “Further development of exercise pills that act in combination may be more effective than single compounds. We just don't know anything about their long-term use in humans yet.”

Don’t give away your fitness supplies just yet, though. It took scientists three years to come up with the exercise blueprint, and it may be another ten before a pill could become available. Moreover, the potential drug would be aimed at the elderly and at people who have obesity, type-2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease and cannot exercise. “For example, a pill for people with spinal cord injury could be very appealing given the difficulties that these individuals face in exercising due to paralysis--in such patients, a large number of detrimental changes occur in cardiovascular and skeletal muscle function,” Laher said. “Clearly people derive many other rewarding experiences from exercise – such as increased cognitive function, bone strength, and improved cardiovascular function,” he added. “We have recognized the need for exercise pills for some time, and this is an achievable goal based on our improved understanding of the molecular targets of physical exercise,” but “it is unrealistic to expect that exercise pills will fully be able to substitute for physical exercise – at least not in the immediate future.”

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