August 04, 2008

Exercise in a Pill: Would You Take It?

[By Crabby]

A while back, I wrote a completely theoretical post over at Diet Blog about the development of an Exercise Pill. And now, guess what? It looks like scientists are getting closer to developing a real exercise pill that provides many of the same benefits that actual exercise does.

(And I'm guessing there are about 150,000 health, weight loss, and fitness blogger who are covering this subject today or got around to it last week. Eh, so what. One of our Governing Principles here at Cranky Fitness is: If you're too lazy to be first, you might as well be silliest.)

Currently you have to be a mouse in the right experimental group to chuck those workouts. But who knows what the future will bring?

Want some hints?

"Almost no one gets the recommended 40 minutes to an hour per day of exercise," said Ronald Evans, head research dude. "For this group of people, if there was a way to mimic exercise, it would make the quality of exercise that they do much more efficient."

How Can You Get Much More Efficient Than This?

Research Dude explained: "If you like exercise, you like the idea of getting more bang for your buck. If you don't like exercise, you love the idea of getting the benefits from a pill."

The drug helps cells burn fat better and boosts endurance. And while the pills are only available experimentally now, the drug "has a relatively simple chemical structure and can be synthesized easily."

Hmm... An easily synthesized pill that could substitute in many ways for actual exercise... think anyone will be interested?

(Note to self: sell shares in 24-Hour Fitness; buy Krispy Kreme).

Assuming that this thing ever really got developed and actually worked (with no dangerous side effects), would you take it? Would you still exercise as much?

And how would you feel about couch potatoes taking a pill instead of doing any exercise at all?

I don't know about you, but thinking about these questions makes me feel weird...

No, not weird like I suddenly turned into a handsome well-groomed European guy. Weird like confused and skeptical and judgmental and grouchy.

Yet to be honest... perhaps somewhat intrigued.

I Can Has Pill? No Moar Running?

Why these mixed emotions? Any of you experiencing the same thing?

Perhaps it's because getting the benefits of exercise without actually suffering through it seems like cheating. It strikes me as somehow "unfair"--in a way that taking an antibiotic to keep from dying of an nasty infection does not.

If we've been doing our exercise all these years, especially if we've done a lot more than we felt like doing, then we should get credit! And people who skipped out and didn't bother should be punished, right?

Er--that sounds kinda screwed up, doesn't it?

Funny how easy it is to equate "exertion" and "sacrifice" with "virtue." But if the exertion merely serves to get us something we could get with a pill, and we could use that time to save the environment or feed hungry people or catch up on that stack of Entertainment Weekly's we've been meaning to get to... what is actually wrong with that?

As it happens, I'm skeptical of scientists' ability to really replicate natural biological processes in a lab, so I'm guessing that even a best case scenario it will be a substance that you could take in addition to exercise, rather than instead of. But would I take the pill, cut down on the treadmill time, and focus more on exercise I actually enjoy?

You betcha.

What do you guys think?


  1. Like the iphone, I would have to wait several years to see what side effects were unmasked. Even taking ibuprophen everyday has side effects so I'll stick to my routine for now or for at least the first 10 years if this thing ever makes it to market.

  2. Exercise in a pill?
    Here goes my feeling of self righteousness...

  3. I think fat people everywhere would be all over it and then get mad when it doesn't work - just like every other super-easy (meaning it don't work the way they say) product out there.

    I've learned to LOVE my workouts. No pills for this gal.

    Kinda like a cell phone. 20 years ago hardly anyone had them, now many can't live without the and their lives are RUN by them. I have one but rarely use it.

    My point - I don't want a pill running me. I can "run" my workouts and be in control of how I feel w/out pills.

    I ramble...sorry

  4. Hi Crabby,

    I would take the pill and exercise anyway. If I have this right, the pill is supposed to help build some kind of fiber in the muscles that exercise also builds, but some people build it better than others. If the pill could help. That's a good thing.


  5. Oh puleeze! I would absolutely take that pill. I love modern medicine. I had an epidural when I had my kids - I take Motrin when I have a headache or a backache. I think it's our duty to further the reaches of science by being test pilots.

    Now -- I was seriously wondering if a pill like this would make exercise unnecessary, or just easier. The latter works for me as much as the first.

  6. Are there any side effects? If not, heck yeah I would. I would take it and still work out since I love working out. Then again, I train for strength not weight loss.

  7. I don't think I'd take the Exercise Pill. I love my exercise routine and it's part of who I am.

    But if there was a Eat Whatever you Want and Don't Gain Weight or Develop Heart Disease pill, I'd take that in a second, no clinical trials necessary.

  8. Yesterday I finally had a chance to get to the park and walk two miles, instead of trying (and sometimes succeeding) to force myself to use the exercise bike here where I can hear my father. Boy, was that fun! It felt good; I enjoyed myself. None of the above is true of the bike. I would SO take a pill instead. But if I had the chance to walk outdoors everyday I'd prefer that. So I'm conflicted over this pill idea. (Aside from the likelihood of side effects, and the probability that I'd be allergic to it.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  9. Other than competitive athletes, who doesn't exercise to burn calories?

    This "pill" does not burn calories.

    Leave the wheel in the cage, thank you!

  10. LOL! I just covered this for HuffPo. I think people are getting excited over, well, not much. First out of the two pills one still requires you to exercise to see results and the other didn't improve the mice that much. Second, there have been no human trials yet, just mice. Third, like the previous commenter pointed out, improved aerobic efficiency and muscular endurance do not necessarily lead to weight loss. More exercise = MORE hunger. My 2 cents...

  11. I actually ENJOY exercising believe it or not. I don't know how a pill could give me the exercise high I get after a really good workout. The benefits of toning and weight loss are a bonus on those days.

    But honestly? I don't think it would work in place of exercise. I think it would be another one of those things to take WITH exercise and good diet and so exercise-phobes would take it and get mad that they couldn't sit on their asses and lose weight.

    Most of these things can't replace exercise and diet. I'd take it, sure, but still keep on the exercise and diet track because it's something I can control and feel proud.

  12. Pssshhhhht! (sound of the can of worms opening)

    I love exercise, too, but a pill sure would help on days that I can't get my butt out of bed. And if it helped my workouts, even better! Barring no nasty side effects of course...

    And yes, I can't get too excited as mice are not people.

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  14. I was about to do my own post on this too (you aren't the last one, at least). I worry about how people who exercise will respond to the pill if they take it.

  15. OMG, some people are just so effing lazy! ;-) They are always looking for a shortcut or a quick fix.

    It's going to take a lot to simulate all of the effects of exercise in a pill. I'm sure they can make a cocktail of chemicals to simulate or even duplicate those released by the brain & body during exercise, but the other benefits, in terms of muscle strength & aerobic benefits for the heart & lungs cannot simply be replicated in a pill.

    BTW, Ronald Evans is incorrect; 40 minutes to an hour per day is NOT the standard recommended daily amount of exercise. The correct figure (for individuals under 65) is actually 20-30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week (or 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity atleast 5 times a week), & 2 days a week of strength-training. [See this link from the CDC, or this link from ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) for more details.] Not sure where Research Dude is getting his numbers from, but he needs to check his sources more carefully.

    To answer your question: No way would I take the exercise pill! First of all, I'm not into taking unnecessary drugs, especially when there's nothing physically or medically wrong that would warrant taking it in the first place. Why do I need to take drugs for something that I can easily accomplish for myself?! It's really not that hard to step out the door & lace up one's shoes & go for a walk or a run. Really, it isn't. Except that the real issue is all 100% mental. ;-) If they could make a motivation pill to move people's rear-ends out the door, I'm sure that'd be of more use to people! Hahahahaha. JUST kidding. (Of course, I don't believe in taking psychotropic drugs of any kind, unless there's a serious, valid medical reason for it -- i.e., clinical depression, etc.)

    I'd like to know exactly what these different drug compounds do, what all of their possible side effects are, & what the long-term results of taking this stuff is going to be. I'm certainly not going to put stuff in my body that has yet to be tested on humans!

  16. Ummm..... no. We-ell, maybe. Err... ummm...
    Being on the lazy side, if it helped me feel more energetic and gave me more endurance, perhaps. But there have been so many debacles in the past over medicine they thought was safe, I would be hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. (Have C.R.A.F.T. disease this morning and can't remember the name of the diet pill that they swore was safe, but eventually realized caused heart problems...sigh)

  17. I'm very skeptical of things like this and I'd need to wait several years to find out what side effects are involved before I could even think about taking it.

    I don't think anyone should replace exercise with a pill but for someone whose body is resistant to weight loss/muscle building, like myself, it would be nice to have something that helped, if it didn't come with a racing heart or uncontrollable bowels...just for example.

  18. I would let everyone else try it out for a few years, then I would take it, but I think I would exercise too, does that mean I could eat more cheesecake?

    Also..all medications have side effects, every single one of them.

  19. The temptation is always going to be there to solve our problems with a pill. I am so very curious as to what the side effects are.

  20. I'm of two minds about this. If there are people who are just NOT going to exercise, and this doesn't end up having lots of side effects, then this might be a good option for them. However, I think it also encourages people to be lazy - they can just tell themselves that they now don't have to exercise because they can just pop a pill.

    And I have serious doubts that this pill can replace exercise. I'm too lazy (ha!) to read the article right now, but does this pill really mimic all the cardiovascular and respiratory benefits of actual exercise? I've read studies where people who were fit but a little overweight were actually healthier than people who were skinny and not fit. And I don't know, maybe it's just the aerobics instructor in me, but I just don't believe that a pill can simulate all the effects of exercise.

    That said, if it did, and didn't have nasty side effects, I might take it occasionally to supplement exercise. But I'd wait a good long while before doing so, to make sure that I knew it was safe.

  21. if it helped motivate me, maybe ... but still, probably not. i'm so skeptical of this type of stuff that my brain would probably make it NOT work.

  22. I'm with cyberpenguin in that I fear taking unnecessary drugs. Plus, so much of what I get out of exercise is mental/emotional--stress relief, a sense of accomplishment, self-esteem... could a pill ever give me that?

  23. Of course there are going to be side effects, maybe as bad as looking all scowly like that well-groomed European man. He's definitely taking a pill.

    Nah, I wouldn't take it, I do everything I can to avoid taking pills.

  24. I was so sceptical about this news when it came out. Then I listened a bit more closely.

    They are hoping to use this pill for individuals with medical problems where exercise is difficult/impossible but the benefits will help the condition. Some folks with diabetes and other metabolic conditions.

    Not that physicians won't "off label" subscribe it to individuals as exercise in a bottle.

    So I applaud the apparent research use of the pill, I doubt I would take if I were able to get my butt to a gym and do the real work.

  25. Ha! No pill no way! So much good feeling mentally and emotionally comes from exercising! :)

  26. Nope. Not for me. I would rather be a little cushy and it be natural. You can't duplicate the endorphins that exercise can give you. Well, legally anyway.

    Nothing beats self control, determination and consistency. Far better prize upon payout.

  27. I have to say I'd be tempted to add this pill to my workout regimen. But, sometimes we must resist temptation, right?
    I also really enjoy working out (and recently discovered that,like MaryAnne, walking outside is one of my favorite things to do). Like Juicebox Mom, I'm waiting for the pill that will prevent weight gain and every conceivable disease, lol!

  28. Im with ya on the less CARDIO and more weights if I could get me some in a pill.

    down the road

    after eons of studies.

    by which time Ill prolly be in a nursing home :)

  29. Yeah I'd take it, but then again I nearly always take the easy way put.

  30. The heart is a muscle. A pill like that might have either a) enormous benefits for people with heart problems that involve weakened muscle tissue b) catastrophic impact somehow... I don't know... either by over-charging the muscle so that it increases pressure on weakened blood vessels or the pills get eaten by the ants in your kitchen and they turn into... THEM!

  31. like many others, I wouldn't hop on the pill bandwagon. I already exercise for the fun as well as the fitness, and am not sure that a pill could keep me fit.

    Also, side effects? I would want a good 10 year of actual 'on the market' results before taking a pill. And by that time, maybe I will be too old to exercise as much & can use the pill to supplement what I can do.

  32. Oh my. I don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said. So just let me express myself by saying, "Sheesh, how much lazier can we get?"

  33. Every comment I could make on this has already been said.

    For people who cannot exercise because of serious problems, yes, if it helps.

    For the rest of us, keeping healthier by keeping unneeded chemicals out and hitting that treadmill sounds good.


  34. You can also get real skinny I hear by taking lots of heroin but I really wouldn't recommend it. no, I'll stick with the non-pill form of exercise.

  35. Hahaha, Nitmos, you crack me up!

    Jen, you've got some excellent points. In addition to the physical benefits, the mental/emotional benefits of doing exercise are irreplaceable.

    And now, to play devil's advocate for a moment:

    There are certainly drugs which can lower anxiety & stress, i.e., Paxil. But these drugs are for people who experience extreme social anxiety, & are certainly not meant as an exercise substitute. ;-) Of course, nonetheless, I'm sure that people with extreme social anxiety could probably still benefit from some exercise. ;-) But then again, who couldn't?! (That is, unless you're under strict orders from your doctor NOT to exercise, or are simply unable to do so due to a prior medical or physical condition. Even then, physical therapy or alternate forms of physical fitness may still be of some practical use.)

    Also, while there are certainly drugs that could give a person the illusion of having a sense of accomplishment or increased self-esteem ;-), they'll never actually replace the actual attainment of these benefits. There's truly nothing can replace the satisfaction a person feels after putting forth effort towards accomplishing their goals, whether that be exercise or some other worthy endeavor. Striving towards goals gives a person a sense of purpose. And exercise & sports are all about that!

  36. Well, I think I'd have to see how long 'til one "got results" (on a general basis), and how truly effective it is. I mean, "Results Not Typical" is worthless.

    And whether I'd consider using it also depends heavily on the side effects.

    "Works like exercise without you doing anything! - Possible side effects include: Death, uncontrollable bladder, birth defects, and bad breath."

    Oh joy.

  37. The skeptic in me would want to see what kind of side effects develop, and whether users have positive long-term results.

  38. Part of me says: great, what's one more pill.

    The other part says: one more pill to add to list of ever growing side effects, what next!

    I think I will just let it be used by others.

  39. i think that I wouldn't give up my spinning classes, even if someone paid me. And, what about all the athletes out there- they exercise because they love the sport!

    i haven't read the report, but i doubt that this pill will give you muscle tone (in the areas that you want) nor will it give you that "high" that comes from a great run or a powerfull weight lifting session.

    i'm not jumping on this bandwagon

  40. I don't take a lot of pills for things anyway, so I don't imagine that I'd start.

    That said, I also don't think that it would work *just like that* for most people.

    Just saying.

  41. Wow, the world really is getting more desperate to find ways around actual "work".

    It would sure be nice to have a "magic pill" but I doubt that would ever happen.

  42. *hands in air, running in circles screaming* Drugs, drugs, drugs!

    The amount of chemicals and drugs that we consume scares me.

    I wouldn't use the pill. But I would be tempted by the quick fix.

  43. pills, hmm. those are contributory factors be slendah. but i do know that there's nothing more like exercise to get ur self fit.xoxo

  44. nothing would ever beat the high that comes from working up a good sweat and getting the heart pumping and grinding. That said, I have always found it alarmingly easy to pop pills, from Advil to, um, other things, so I would prolly try Exercise in a Pill, if only for experimentation sake.

  45. Clearly I would take the pill in addition to the already-ludicrous workout schedule I have, such is my Crazybrain.

    Actually, I think this pill would be good for me. I'd stop worrying about the calorie burn every time I work out, and start actually exercising purely for enjoyment. That sounds like heaven.

    Hopefully the side-effects will be wit and charisma (to go along with the perfect body)

    TA x

  46. I would take the pill but I would still try to exercise because I doubt any pill is going to do EVERYTHING for me that exercising does.

    Kind of like taking a multi-vitamin but continuing to eat healthily.

    See, as a formerly obese person, I understand that when I get down to my goal weight it's going to take a lot more work to stay there than it took to get there. And I think an exercise pill would be a great help, because let's face it, sometimes life just gets in the way of healthy habits.

  47. Linda - I have to say that I don't appreciate the tone of your comment "I think fat people everywhere would be all over it and then get mad when it doesn't work - just like every super easy [...] product out there."

    That's like, super discriminatory dude. It's like you believe that all fat people are lazy, and that nobody else is too lazy to exercise. Not cool.

  48. I would not want to take this pill. Then again I don't even like taking basic supplements, so I'm kinda strange perhaps. Its just not natural... kinda creeps me out. And do we really need yet another excuse to not exercise? What are people planning on doing with all this time that they'd be supposedly saving by not exercising or by cutting down on exercising?

  49. Here's my question about this: if it's meant to help people lose weight, wouldn't the effects wear off? They say that working out four hours a day isn't necessarily better than working out two hours a day, because your body gets used to it and hoards fat. Wouldn't the pill cause something similar?

  50. Man, everybody's weighed in -heh - on this issue, yes?

    The way I understand the research, there are TWO forms of the med in development: AICAR, the "exercises for you" version, and GW1615 (or some other alphabet soup), the "performance enhancement" version.

    AICAR is apparently targeted toward those who are, for example, dystrophic - who have suffered some type of problem that limits movement. (Although I'm sure there aren't going to be a lot of public prohibitions for prescribing it off-label.)

    The performance enhancement version? All I can say is that the IOC is already working on tests for early detection.

  51. Probably could've used it today when I blew off aerobics. Wonder if it would give you poopy side effects like Alli?


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