The subject of exercise has sparked numerous debates over the years, and now there’s a new one. A review of efforts to develop an effective exercise pill was published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences in October of 2015, and scientists are looking hopeful.
According to coauthor Ismail Laher, who belongs to the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, “We have recognized the need for exercise pills for some time, and this is an achievable goal based on our improved understanding of the molecular targets of physical exercise.” But what exactly is an exercise pill?
Current developments of exercise pills are focusing primarily on improving skeletal muscles, thereby increasing strength, energy use, and the body’s efficiency. The focus of future research will be to help people who are physically incapable of exercise, such as people who have spinal cord injuries. In other words, those people hoping for a miracle weight loss pill should prepare to be disappointed.
In addition to the fact that an exercise pill may not lead to weight loss, another factor to consider is that exercise pills will not be able to comprehensively provide all benefits of exercise, such as decreased risk of depression, improved cognitive function, and improved bone strength. Despite these facts, scientists are excited about the possibility of the first exercise pill. “We are at the early stages of this exciting new field. Further developments of exercise pills that act in combination may be more effective than single compounds. We just don’t know anything about their long-term use in humans yet,” notes Laher.
Most people are, overall, thrilled by the potential of an exercise pill, but there are some negative implications as well. Restrictions will be necessary, especially for competitive athletes. In fact, there was already a doping incident with a candidate exercise pill in a 2013 cycling competition. The possibilities for misuse are nearly infinite.
Ultimately, much more research will be necessary before a thorough statement can be made about the exact benefits of an exercise pill. No pill has been officially tested in humans thus far, though there are surely many candidates who are more than willing to participate in a trial, for both their own benefits and that of science.