Scientists Are Working on an ‘Exercise Pill’ — But What Would It Even Do?


Scientists are in early stages of development of an “exercise pill.” (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s no question that exercise is good for us. Not only does it make us stronger and faster, it can also do things like boost bone density, make cancer treatments more effective, and even add years to our lives.

But is it possible to get the benefits of exercise without the, well, exercise? Scientists are in the process of creating an “exercise pill” that provides some of the effects physical activity has on the body — without actually having to engage in it. Still in its earliest stages of development, the pill would target skeletal muscle performance and improve strength and energy, according to a review of current development efforts published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.

But not so fast: This pill will not actually be able to fully replace the act of working out for the general population, notes study researcher Ismail Laher, PhD, of the the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia.

“The idea of developing such a pill is obviously a very attractive one and will benefit many in need when they are unable to benefit from regular physical exercise,” he tells Yahoo Health.

Related: The Essential Trick to Make Exercise a Daily Habit

For example, an exercise pill could be helpful for those who suffer from spinal cord injury or paralysis, who may experience problems with cardiovascular and skeletal muscle function.

However, as Science of Us points out, there are other benefits of exercising that would not be able to be replicated by a pill — like the mental benefits, for instance.

As for what these pills may contain, vitamins and minerals will most likely not be on the contents label. “One has to put a damper on the idea that vitamins and minerals may be of benefit,” Laher tells Yahoo Health. “These are clearly of therapeutic value in people with some forms of deficiency, often associated with a medical condition. For most people, the only benefit you get from some of these vitamins or minerals is the exercise you get from running to the bathroom!”

Related: The Instant Effects of Diet and Exercise

Assuming the pill becomes available in the future, it is uncertain whether it will be sold over-the-counter or by prescription. “Ultimately it would depend on safety issues, and these sorts of studies have not yet been carried out,” explains Laher. “But of interest is that there has already been a report of doping with a candidate exercise pill in a professional sporting event.”

And don’t hold your breath for an exercise pill to make its debut anytime soon: We’re still probably more than five years away from a release date. “We are only now beginning to identify the molecular targets that such pills would need to interact with,” he says. “But in so doing, we are also beginning to appreciate where such drugs fall short in terms of a straight-up comparison with regular physical exercise. So there is still a lot of work to be done, but we’re off to a promising start.”

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