Is the Future of Exercise in Your Medicine Cabinet?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
April 18, 2016
Pill Might Someday Be Able to Replace Exercise

If you’ve ever longed for the day that you could simply take a pill to reap the benefits of working out, here’s a story for you: Scientists in Australia and Denmark are in the early stages of research for a pill that could one day mimic the effects of exercise. A study recently published in Cell Metabolism details how the scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen are advancing on the project.

While most of us know that regular exercise helps control a wide range of conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and neurological disorders, a surprising number of Americans still don’t exercise regularly. In fact, the Physical Activity Council’s annual survey reported that 83 million Americans were sedentary during 2015.

Why aren’t we moving? Well, for starters, WebMD reports that many people skip the gym because they lack time, are fatigued or dislike exercise. And of course, people living with a chronic condition, pain or a disability are often sidelined. We also spend an increasing amount of time sitting, whether on the job or for entertainment.

In the study, researchers set out to map the physiological changes that occur while working out. They biopsied skeletal muscle tissue from four healthy, untrained men before and after the men performed 10 minutes of high intensity exercise. Investigators studied the muscle tissue to understand the protein activity of cells during physical activity, documenting more than 1,000 molecular changes. This led investigators to create a “blueprint” for exercise and use a statistical analysis to narrow the most significant physiological benefits of exercise.

Investigators think a drug that mimics exercise will need to target multiple molecules and pathways. This differs from most other medications which are manufactured to focus on one specific molecule. Although this pill, if developed, won’t provide all of the benefits of exercise such as easing stress, improving circulation or increasing bone mass, investigators suggest such a pill might be a major breakthrough in helping people maintain their health and quality of life.

Some experts are concerned that such a pill may foster sedentary behavior; however, researchers say it’s intended to be available via prescription for the elderly and individuals living with a disability, amputation, chronic pain or a condition exacerbated by exercise. Other investigators are also looking into this line of research; the University of Southampton (Great Britain) recently published a paper featuring similar results. Their “compound 14” was designed to make cells think they’re low on energy; thus, triggering a boost in metabolism and utilization of blood sugar.

If researchers are successful, this kind of pill could still be many years away. In the meantime, it’s important to stay active. Work with your doctor to develop an appropriate fitness routine that will focus on improving:

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness: Your heart and lungs need to be healthy enough to deliver oxygen throughout your body. The higher your cardiorespiratory fitness is, the more efficient your body can handle routine activities such as walking and stair climbing. Walking, cycling and swimming are all good low-impact ways to improve cardiorespiratory.
  • Muscular strength and endurance: This is the muscle’s ability to exert force to lift or move an object and how long this force can be exerted before becoming fatigued. Both muscular strength and endurance are important in performing the activities of daily living such as grocery shopping and house cleaning. Activities that build muscular strength and endurance include weight training, yoga and strength training classes.  
  • Flexibility: This is your joints’ ability to move through their full range of motion. Flexibility is an important component in sustaining limberness, moving in different directions and preventing aches and pains. Low impact activities that help improve flexibility include stretching and yoga.   
  • Body composition: This is your ratio of body fat versus muscle, water and bone. Generally speaking, a healthy body composition is below 25 percent fat for men and below 32 percent fat for women. A healthy body composition can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Cardiorespiratory activities, muscle strength/endurance exercises and diet help control body composition.

When designing your exercise plan, consider incorporating weight- bearing exercises to strengthen bones and agility training to help maintain balance, reaction time and coordination, as well as to help reduce the risk falls and other types of injuries.

Your MDVIP-affiliated physician can help you manage your weight and guide your nutrition choices. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated physician? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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