Scientists are developing an "exercise pill" intended to have the same body and brain-boosting benefits as a real workout session -- without all the sweat. For gym-loathing folks, this sounds like incredible news. For everyone else, it sounds too good to be true.
It's really happening.
The fundamentals behind the pill come from research teams at the University of Sydney and University of Copenhagen, who examined the protein changes that occurred in the skeletal muscle of four healthy men. The four participants had a muscle biopsy before exercise, and again after they strenuously worked out on an exercise bicycle for 10 minutes. After analyzing the materials, the researchers found that exercise causes more than 1,000 unique molecular changes in skeletal muscles. For example, they discovered that working out impacts the body's sensitivity to insulin and can even encourage the production of new blood vessels.
“While scientists have long suspected that exercise causes a complicated series of changes to human muscle, this is the first time we have been able to map exactly what happens,” Nolan Hoffman, one of the study's authors and a research associate at the School of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Sydney, said in a statement. With this information, the researchers created a "blueprint" of the molecular reactions they want to recreate with a pill.
“We’ve created an exercise blueprint that lays the foundation for future treatments, and the end goal is to mimic the effects of exercise,” Hoffman told Quartz. “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.”
Before you cancel your gym membership, know that this elusive pill won't offer all of the wonderful benefits of a good workout. Hoffman said the goal is to pinpoint the most crucial ones, and replicate them with the pill. The pill won't, for example, induce those feel-good endorphins that come with a liberating run. Strengthening muscles and lowering cholesterol may be two of the main targets; the specifics are not yet clear, but the researchers will evaluate the greatest needs of the people who could use the pill most.
It could take over a decade before the pill is available; it took three years to create the blueprint alone. And the prescription isn't being crafted for those who are merely treadmill-averse: Taking a dose of exercise could be greatly impactful for people who can't exercise, like those with chronic disease, injuries or other maladies that inhibit them from getting on the treadmill. It could also benefit the elderly, who might experience greater quality in life, as they won't have to submit to the side effects associated with decreasing mobility.
We first heard of an exercise pill a few years ago, when researchers conducting a study on mice found that a drug called SR9009 increased their muscles and decreased their cholesterol levels. "There’s no reason to believe that [it] doesn’t do the same thing in humans," Dr. Thomas Burris, one of the study's author, previously told The Huffington Post.
Only time will tell if this latest seemingly sci-fi capsule will come to the market. In the meantime, if you're able, try squeezing 30 minutes of exercise into your day today. It'll make you feel less stressed, more confident and all around happier.
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