Exercise is good for you. The problem is that not all of us like doing it, and it can be tough to fit into a demanding work schedule.
Is an exercise pill possible or just a pipe-dream?
Well it's not here yet, but there are a number of molecules that mimic the beneficial effects of exercise. We don't know every process involved yet, so reducing the wide ranging benefits to a few pathways may be simplistic, but mimicking a few is better than nothing!
It's all too easy to preach to obese and sedentary individuals to diet and exercise, but practically that doesn't always work. We can all have 'off' days, and to many people a pill is a great alternative.
No-one's suggesting exercise is redundant
We're a long way from an actual exercise pill which captures a wide range of exercise benefits. Just as a multivitamin is no replacement for a varied diet, it's unlikely a pill will ever match exercise in its entirety. It could be a supplement however; meaning that it supplements a less than active schedule (rather than completely replacing exercise).
A new study has now reviewed existing molecules with exercise mimicking properties, and gives an outline of the actions a so called 'exercise pill' would require. Here are some below:
The candidate drugs range from pharmacological agonists to hormones and phytochemicals like resveratrol and epicatechin (found in cocoa and tea).
So what molecules are there?
AICAR (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide), GW1516, GSK4716 and SR9009 have complicated names, but they're all molecules that act on skeletal muscle in various ways and promote certain benefits. AICAR can increase mouse running endurance by 44%, and the others target different receptors to influence multiple actions. MOST-C is a mitochondrial signalling hormone and has similar effects to AICAR - stimulating accumulation of AICAR inside a cell.
Irisin has been called the 'feel good' exercise hormone, but it's essentially a muscle signalling molecule. Irisin acts on white fatty tissue and can help convert 'bad' white fat to the 'good' brown type.
(–)-epicatechin and resveratrol are already well known in health circles - sparking the chocolate, tea and wine craze. They both help increase endurance, boost mitochondrial health and help create new blood vessels.
Exercise is still the best option, and will be for a long time
These effects are great, and it may be that combining a few could really help those who just can't maintain an active lifestyle (perhaps for health reasons). It's important to note that exercise can cause more than 1000 changes in muscle, which puts into perspective how complex biology is. For the majority of people exercise is therefore still the best option, and there's no substitute...for now.