Exercise in a pill?

We all know we should do it for 20, 30, 60 or 90 minutes a day depending on
what study you read or which expert you listen to. But no matter the optimal
amount, most health experts agree that exercise is key to keeping our minds
and bodies healthy.

Even so, finding the time and motivation for daily physical activity is not
always easy. Further, because of medical conditions or injuries, some people
are unable to engage in a regular fitness routine.

But now scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have found
a way to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise — without actually exercising.

In a report published in the journal Cell, researchers led by Ronald
Evans, a professor in the Salk Institute’s Gene Expression Laboratory,
found that oral drugs triggered certain brain pathways that turned laboratory
mice into long distance runners — as well as giving them many of exercise’s
other benefits.

The no-exercise drug — called AICAR — was given to sedentary mice
for four weeks. Compared with untreated mice, they burned more calories and
had less fat. And when tested on a treadmill they were transformed into star
athletes, running about 44 per cent farther and 23 per cent longer than mice
not receiving the medication.

And when given a second drug, the mice could actually run 70 per cent further
and 68 per cent longer.

“We have exercise in a pill,” Mr. Evans told the Associated Press.
“With no exercise, you can take a drug and chemically mimic it.”

While it is yet to be determined just how well these results might translate
to humans, researchers say that one day such a drug could be used to help treat
obesity, diabetes and people with medical conditions such as joint pain or heart
failure that prevent them from exercising.

And while ‘exercise in a pill’ may also sound tempting for future
Olympic contenders, Evans has already developed a test that can readily detect
the drugs in blood and urine and is working with officials at the World Anti-Doping

Sources: Salk Institute Press Release, July 31, 2008; The Associated Press


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