We’ve all been there. Busy days meet late nights and the Nikes gather dust by the door. If they wanted us to exercise, why did they make beds so comfortable?
Or maybe we makeover our workout wardrobe (the sprinting’s not as peppy in last year’s colours, right?), spend 10 minutes perfecting a sleek pony, and suddenly, fatigue hits. You can’t exercise on an empty stomach. Know what’s better than a nutritious kale-packed smoothie? Double-smoked bacon on a freshly-baked cheddar chive biscuit (still warm). Obviously.
Enter science, and the elusive unicorn that is the exercise pill.
For over a decade, science has been teasing us. In 2013, the Scripps Research Institute in Florida found a drug candidate, SR9009, that mimicked the effects of exercise—increased endurance and metabolic rate—in mice. “The animals actually get muscles like an athlete who has been training,” said study co-author Dr. Thomas Burris, according to the Huffington Post, prompting adorable visions of tiny mice in muscle tees, strutting to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.”
Late last year, scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute succeeded in making white fat cells (which store energy) act like brown fat cells (which burn energy). They subjected white fat cells to 1,000 molecular compounds, and found two that “had all of the gene signatures of white fat,” Chad Cowan, a co-author of the paper, told Science of Us, “but they “could just do something [they] couldn’t before.” (And that something is making everyone ohmygod so happy. Ahem.)
Unlike previous research that had also managed to pull off this trick, the conversion from white cell behaviour to brown was sustained, meaning that any drug to emerge from this new research wouldn’t have to be taken forever. Cool beans, right? The rub was that both those compounds suppressed the immune system. Svelte and sick isn’t exactly a winning combo, so back to the drawing board.
Fast forward almost a year, and two new papers are again whetting our appetite for…well, not working out. The first reviews the promises and challenges of an exercise pill. Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen took a different tact with the second. By studying the effects of a 10-minute exercise bicycle workout on four healthy males, they found over 1,000 molecular changes that the body (the skeletal muscle, to be exact) undergoes during exercise. Here’s one: the study found that exercise can help create 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,” Dr. Nolan Hoffman, co-author of the paper, said in a statement. “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.”
Professor David James, the head of the study, says “Our research has provided the roadmap to figure this out.”
But don’t get too excited. “Everyone’s looking for a pill to replace exercise, but we’re just not there yet,” said one of the recent studies’ co-author Ismail Laher, a professor at the University of B.C. in Canada. “It’s not going to make a couch potato into Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Even if everything is neatly sorted out, the potential pill would still be years and years away from market and technically, technically, the pill is intended for people who are unable to exercise—such as the elderly or infirm—not those of us who whine about being too busy to the gentle sound of the Apple remote clicking. And while it could potentially boost your metabolism or lower your cholesterol, there’s still a whack of other benefits from working up a good ol’ sweat—like that sweet endorphin rush or improved bone mass—that the pill likely wouldn’t replicate.
Although, science is pretty smart. Science could come up with some mood-boosting/calcium-rich/fat-burning hybrid. But one (sedentary, Pringle-munching) step at a time.
Would you try an exercise pill? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.