Forget Exercise–Take a Pill Instead?

Researchers are hot on the trail of exercise mimetics, that is, orally active agents that can mimic or potentiate the effects of exercise to treat metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity. The latest research indicates that compounds called AICAR and PPAR-delta (don’t worry about what those stand for) are the leading contenders for an “exercise pill” of sorts. In one study reported in the journal Cell last year, researchers tested the effect of both of these drugs on endurance capacities of mice in a treadmill running test and found a great improvement. Even when the first compound (AICAR) was given for four weeks to sedentary mice, it induced the formation of metabolic genes and enhanced running endurance by 44% (and these mice were doing absolutely no exercise). With results like these to encourage the pharmaceutical companies, the race is on to find a drug that can be used in humans to make their metabolism run like that of a well-trained marathoner—without their ever having to get up off the couch.

What I want to know, though, is whether these compounds would give me my daily endorphin high as well (likely not)! In all seriousness, though, you have to keep in mind that even if the future brings a drug that you can take to replicate the metabolic effects of exercise, it is unlikely to have the same systemic effects that you get from really doing the activity, such as beneficial enlargements in your heart and blood vessels, increases in muscle fiber size and strength, prevention of low-level inflammation and insulin resistance, et cetera. They no doubt would help keep you leaner by revving up your metabolism, but the research is not conclusive that weight loss and prevention of obesity are the most important factors in the prevention of diabetes and its potential health complications. For best results, my advice is that once they’re available, you should simply take these pills with you in your pocket everywhere you go while you’re active all day long!

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