Health Watch -- An Exercise Pill?

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

What if you could get the benefits of exercise without moving a muscle?

The idea of getting strong muscles without actually having to do anything may sound like a dream come true, but researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found a way to turn sedentary muscles that tire easily into strong, energy-producing muscles - without exercise. They found that a calcium-signaling protein stimulates the production of mitochondria in muscle cells. Mitochondria provide energy to the cells. By making this protein be overactive, researchers were able to make muscle cells act like they belonged to marathon runners.

Further research may find ways to use this knowledge to create an exercise drug that will give unused muscles more endurance. But don't cancel your gym membership. The goal isn't to replace exercise with a pill so that couch potatoes can reap benefits without breaking a sweat. This exercise drug would be designed to benefit people who can't exercise, such as patients with heart failure, lung disease or some other illness that leaves them bedridden. When muscles aren't used, they grow weaker. With an exercise drug, these patients could maintain strong muscles.

Besides, there are more benefits from exercise than strong muscles. This drug wouldn't affect the way your heart and lungs work, which is an important effect of exercise. It wouldn't help you burn more calories, so a pill wouldn't help you lose weight or keep from gaining weight the way exercise does. If your health allows you to exercise, you should get moving to enjoy all these benefits.

Jan. 6, 2003