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Is The Controversial Exercise Pill a Miracle or a Danger?

By Hillary Eaton ; Updated March 17, 2018

Scientists may have finally found a way to get the benefits of working out without exercise. Their solution: Exercise in pill form.

According to findings published yesterday in Cell Metabolism, scientists have determined that an experimental drug known as GW501516 may actually be able to mimic the gains of a boundary-pushing workout, minus all the sweat. Welcome to the future, people.

The researchers, who administered the drug to mice, found that the rodents’ endurance levels when running drastically increased. In fact, they were able to run much longer (270 minutes on a treadmill) than the mice that were not administered the drug (170 minutes on the treadmill).

The difference, the scientists found, was largely due to the drug’s ability to sparingly use glucose and keep blood sugar levels stable so that the mice didn’t hit the wall. It also increased the activation of muscle proteins known as PPARD, allowing the mice to go even harder than they normally would be able to.

The Guardian explains that this experimental drug is good for more than enabling sports pros to go that extra mile or helping lazy folk cut down on days at the gym without losing the results. The drug is also extremely important for those who are perhaps unable to exercise due to obesity or physical disability. Besides a drastic increase in endurance, the drug also led the mice to put on less weight and better control their blood sugar levels.

Ronald Evans, a scientist who worked on the study, explained to The Guardian that taking the pill could be a big — and necessary — step for those who haven’t been able to get fit themselves. “There are groups of people who for one reason or other cannot exercise, people with real problems, and you could potentially have a pill that gives them some of the benefits of exercise. A pill of this sort might allow them to [get to] a place where they can start to exercise for real.”

The Guardian points out that the added benefits of weight loss and controlled blood sugar levels aren’t all that surprising, given that the drug was originally invented in the 1990s by GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand Pharmaceuticals to battle metabolic and cardiovascular disease. What is surprising, however, is that the drug was later abandoned because a few studies found that it might cause cancer.

Ali Tavassoli, professor of chemical biology at Southampton University, told The Guardian that she’s skeptical of the drug. “What happens when you take a drug like this for that long? What happens to you? These are big unanswered questions. I can’t see these things getting regulatory approval.”

We'll have to wait to find out if the pill is a safe option to increase endurance and get in better shape, considering the drug won’t be available anytime soon. Looks like it’s back to good old-fashioned working out for the time being.

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