Being fit and healthy is great - but finding the motivation to hit the gym or get out on a bike continues to be a problem for many of us. Trying to reap the benefits of exercise without any of the actual exercise is a challenge scientists have been grappling with for years, but an international team of researchers has just made some major headway: creating a blueprint of the body's molecular reactions to exercise.
They've managed to identify 1,000 molecular changes in skeletal muscles caused by exercise, and if they can figure out which of these biological modifications are the most significant, we'd be a step closer to the reality of having an 'exercise pill' as an alternative to a real workout.
"We've created an exercise blueprint that lays the foundation for future treatments, and the end goal is to mimic the effects of exercise," lead research Nolan Hoffman from the University of Sydney told Olivia Goldhill at Quartz. "It's long been thought that there were many signals elicited by exercise, but we were the first to create this map and we now know the complexity."
Four healthy male volunteers were used as human guinea pigs for the experiment, offering muscle samples both before and after an intense 10-minute stretch on an exercise bike. These samples were then used by the researchers to inform their report, recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Of course, developing a drug that stimulates 1,000 molecular changes is no easy task - that's why the scientists' next step is to figure out which of these shifts are most important and how they might be combined. According to Hoffman, it's going to be at least a decade before a wonder pill is available - but his team and others are making progress.
It's not just about dodging the gym and giving people an excuse to slob out on the sofa: an exercise drug could offer a host of benefits for the elderly and those who struggle with obesity, type-II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. For anyone who can't physically exercise in the normal way, a drug that generates the same effects could be life-changing.
Another recent study published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences looks at the current state of exercise pill research. While some drugs are showing progress in one specific area, no one is close to the magic formula yet - a formula that would mimic all the benefits of exercise in a single tablet.
"Everyone's looking for a pill to replace exercise, but we're just not there yet," study co-author Ismail Laher from the University of British Columbia in Canada explained to Time Magazine. "It's not going to make a couch potato into Arnold Schwarzenegger." Bad luck, guys.