Now take a pill for the benefits of exercise

Researchers are working on a new "exercise pill" that could be holding promise for a day when non-exercisers would be able to enjoy a better mood and health without working out.

"If you reprogram the genetics, you can acquire that level of fitness without having to expend a lot of energy", said Ronald Evans, an author of the study and a molecular and developmental biologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

The study found a way to mimic the beneficial effects of exercise in mice, which resulted in increased fat burning and stamina, all without the critters moving a single muscle. But human trials of drugs that increase PPARD are a likely reality in the near future, the Salk researchers said.

The compound called GW1516, or simply GW, has been around for the past 20 years, according to scientists, who say it has been used illegally by some athletes to improve their performance. In particular, the mice developed long-distance running skills, tended to burn more fat, and were more responsive to insulin.

The scientists presented their findings May 2 in the journal Cell Metabolism, in an article entitled "PPARδ Promotes Running Endurance by Preserving Glucose". Working off this information, the researchers identified exactly how the drug brought this about - through how it affected almost 1,000 genes. It also provided them with an alternative to exercise for individuals with coronary heart conditions, type 2 diabetes, pulmonary disease, and any other medical constraints that have stopped them from exercising.

If you live a sedentary life, you may be resigned to doing without the benefits of aerobic exercise.

Such a drug would benefit the infirm and disabled who can't exercise, said Ron Evans, a study leader. They key is a gene called PPAR delta (PPARD). Mice that went without the drug lasted only 160 minutes before reaching their physical limit. The rodents also demonstrated resistance to weight gain, as well as a higher response to insulin, which are both indicators of physical fitness. They discovered that when mice were genetically engineered so their PPARD genes were permanently turned on, they could run for long distances without getting exhausted, they were resistant to weight gain and they were responsive to insulin.

For the study, the team conducted a series of tests with mice on treadmills. For both groups, exhaustion set in when blood sugar (glucose) dropped to around 70 mg/dl, suggesting that low glucose levels (hypoglycemia) are responsible for fatigue, the release states.

'It means you can improve endurance to the equivalent level as someone in training, without all of the physical effort'.

"Exercise activates PPARD, but we're showing that you can do the same thing without mechanical training", said lead author Weiwei Fan, a Salk research associate. The scientists believe that directing the body to burn fat as an energy source for the muscles may be the genes' way of preserving sugar for the brain. Presuming these same effects would translate over to people, the researchers noted, that suggests PPARD tells our muscles to avoid using glucose for the sake of keeping our brain fueled.

In a none too subtle pitch to drug developers, the team says that their work has attracted some active interest on the part of biopharma companies intrigued by the notion that a drug like this could be a major help to the obese, diabetics and people weakened by surgery.

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