While it may sound like something seen in your favorite superhero movie, scientists have found a path to creating an exercise pill.
Researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, created a blueprint of the 1,000 molecular changes in the body that occur from exercise. The goal now is to identify which of those changes are most critical and replicate the effects using drugs, according to the study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
“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,” said study co-author Dr. Nolan Hoffman, a research associate at the School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney.
Exercise pills may sound like a novelty or convenience item for those who may not want to go the gym. However, the more practical and impactful use of such a drug would be for the benefit of those unable to exercise due to physical impairments.
“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,” said Dr. Ismail Laher, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, who was part of a second, similar study published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.
There are several groups currently trying to develop a pill to mimic the effects of exercise. However, the current crop of drugs fail to provide crucial benefits of actual exercise including improved bone strength and increased blood supply.
“Exercise pills are not a panacea or a short cut to get the full benefits of regular exercise,” said Dr. Laher. “The current list of candidate exercise pills are a promising start but the road ahead is still a long one with some challenges—such as developing a means to stimulating multiple targets unrelated to skeletal muscle activation.”
The blueprint identified in the Australian study may help to fill in some of the blanks found in previous attempts at an exercise drug.
“This is a major breakthrough, as it allows scientists to use this information to design a drug that mimics the true beneficial changes caused by exercise,” said Dr. Hoffman.