Exercise in a Pill

Physical activity has numerous beneficial effects on mental and physical health. With the reduced need for physical activity to ensure our basic needs (utilitarian activity), it is increasingly up to the individual to compensate by consciously engaging in recreational (non-utilitarian) activity, generally referred to as exercise.

Numerous barriers exist to engaging in exercise, including time limitations, lack of motivation, and pain or injury. Researchers have therefore pursued the idea of being able to mimic the beneficial effects of exercise with the help of drugs that induce the same gene-expression patterns and metabolic changes seen with exercise.

In yesterday’s issue of CELL, Vihang Narkar and colleagues from the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA report on their findings that the combination of an orally active AMPK agonist with a PPARβ/δ agonist can induce metabolic genes and dramatically enhance running endurance in sedentary mice. Furthermore, the PPARβ/δ agonist in combination with exercise synergistically induced fatigue-resistant type I fibers and mitochondrial biogenesis, ultimately enhancing physical performance

These results demonstrate that AMPK-PPARδ pathway can be targeted by orally active drugs to enhance training adaptation or even to increase endurance without exercise.

Obviously, treatments that work in mice may not be as effective or safe in humans. Furthermore, the researchers did not actually demonstrate that the induction of metabolic genes and increased endurance actually improves the health of the mice.

But the results are promising and certainly a major step towards developing a pharmacological alternative to exercise.

In the meantime, however, there is no alternative to being as physically as you can. As Angelo Tremblay, presenting today to the students at the CON Obesity Boot Camp emphasized, increased participation in physical activity is a key characteristic of individuals who lose weight and manage to keep it off.

Duschesnay, Quebec

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