For those who can’t work out due to chronic pain, disability, or other obligations, a pill could some day offer some of the benefits of walking, squatting, or doing push-ups.

That’s right: scientists are working on an “exercise pill,” to help you if you can’t help yourself.

Two studies have been underway to examine the physical changes that the body undergoes after exercising, like building muscle, creating new cells, and developing blood vessels, in an attempt to duplicate them with chemical compounds.

In one of the studies, scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia were looking at ways to chemically replicate the benefits of exercise for people who couldn’t work out because of injury or illness.

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The researchers  biopsied healthy athletes’ muscles before and after strenuous workouts and found 1,004 molecular changes that took place during the workout, suggesting they could isolate chemical compounds that could one day duplicate those changes.

“While scientists have long suspected that exercise causes a complicated series of changes to human muscle, this is the first time we have been able to map exactly what happens,” study co-author Dr. Nolan Hoffman said. “This is a major breakthrough, as it allows scientists to use this information to design a drug that mimics (some of) the true beneficial changes caused by exercise.”

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A second study at the University of British Columbia in Canada aimed to uncover whether exercise pills might be able to help people build muscle faster and reach exercise goals more quickly.

The Canadian research suggests that any benefits from an exercise pill will be localized in the muscles.

“It’s not going to make a couch potato into Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Ismail Laher, the study’s co-author, said. “It’s a very small slice of the pie.”

But it may one day allow you to have a slice of pie after dinner, without having to spend as much time in the gym.

No single pill can provide the hundreds of positive results real exercise produces, but these researchers believe their findings indicate that one day, many people could benefit.

The separate studies have been published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences and the journal Cell Metabolism.

(Photo: Allan Ajifo, CC; Global Panorama, CC)

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