Scientists have confirmed in a study done on mice that they are close to finalising a drug that provides the benefits of exercise in tablet form.
The possibility of an 'exercise pill' will excite and raise the hopes of many: the lazy and busy to name a few.
However if you’re one of the lazy bastards with a big grin on his face at the thought of sculpting a six-pack just by taking a pill, don’t get too ahead of yourself.
The main purpose for this supposed wonder drug will be to aid people who are unable to exercise due to obesity or physical disabilities.
But is it really all that it’s cracked up to be? If the effects the drug had on mice are the same as humans will experience, then yes – it’s going to be a game-changer.
Mice in the study that took the experimental drug were able to run on a treadmill for 270 minutes before getting exhausted, while mice that didn’t take the drug were only able to run for 160 minutes.
As well as increased levels of exercise, the mice who took the drug for eight weeks also put on less weight and had more consistent blood sugar levels which suggests that apart from fitness-related goals, this drug may be able to assist people living with diabetes.
The drug, titled 'GW501516', was first developed in the 1990’s. The initial results were positive, but the experimental drug was soon abandoned after scientists discovered it might cause cancer if taken in high doses.
However, scientists continued to study and alter the compound, and are now close to perfecting it. Dr Ronald Evans, from the Salk Institute in San Diego, found the drug changes the activity of nearly 1000 genes in your body, many of which are involved in burning fat.
But just how does this wonder drug work? According to the journal Cell Metabolism, the drug not only helps the body burn fat at a faster rate, but also slows down how fast it burns sugar. The result? You’ll still get exhausted, but you’ll be able to exercise harder for longer.
"In endurance sport competitions, such as cycling, marathon runs, race walking and cross-country skiing, 'hitting the wall' is a dramatic demonstration of sudden and complete exhaustion," the study says. But they confirm that taking the 'exercise pill' "is sufficient to dramatically improve endurance capacity."
Ali Tavassoli, professor of chemical biology at Southhampton University, told The Guardian there was a high possibility these drugs could be abused by professional athletes, but conceded there's room for them in the fitness world.
"There are groups of people who for one reason or another cannot exercise, people with real problems,” Tavassoli said. "A pill of this sort might allow them to reach a place where they can start to exercise for real."
Tavassoli, however, also acknowledges that while the effects are positive in the short-term, little to nothing is known on how it will affect humans in the long-term.
"There's a big difference between showing in an organism that you can mimic exercise over the short-term and demonstrating the long-term effects of doing this," he said.
"Someone with diabetes might be taking a pill for 40 of 50 years. What happens when you take a drug like this for that long? What happens to you? These are big unanswered questions," he said. "I can't see these things getting regulatory approval."
While there are still multiple boxes that need to be ticked before this drug receives approval, the early signs are positive.
So for now, lifting weights and hitting the treadmill is way to go. But we'll continue to monitor the prospects of this wonder drug soon hitting the shelves.