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Exercise Pills Promise Benefits Without the Workout

FILE - A woman, who suffers from diabetes, is seen walking on a treadmill as part of an exercise program to help control the disease.

Wouldn’t it be great to take an exercise pill and get all of the benefits of a workout with none of the work? Such drugs are now in the pipeline. But an expert cautions not to expect too much from a pill that simulates exercise.

There are approximately eight compounds now in the works that would give users the benefits of a workout – for as long as people take the pill.

Along with colleagues, Ismail Laher, a pharmacologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, did a systematic review, published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, looking at the physical benefits of a number of experimental drugs that would help build muscles without moving a muscle.

Laher says there are at least a thousand different positive impacts that exercise has on muscles. But the exercise compounds mimic the physiological benefits of only one muscle function - the building of skeletal muscles without the danger and side effects of steroids.

“My sense is, you know, this is not a magic pill for exercise. What these pills do is take the magic out of exercise,” he said.

Laher stresses that physical exercise has a number of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health and helping diabetics manage their disease, which exercise pills cannot match.

But Laher says they would be useful in helping people with spinal cord injuries who are unable to move – to get some of the benefits of a workout.

“Let’s focus on where we can make a positive impact on this and then go from there, and target those populations. But not target the able-bodied person who can exercise,” he said.

Laher says clinical trials in humans still need to be done to find out whether exercise pills are a wonder drug.