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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Exercise pill a possibility
Will this be necessary one day?
It may be one day be possible to pop a pill to build up muscle tone without the need to take exercise.

Scientists say they have discovered how to stimulate muscles in the way that exercise does.

An inability to exercise complicates many chronic medical conditions and makes those conditions worse

Dr Sanders Williams
The breakthrough may offer a way to help bedridden or disabled people get some of the benefits of exercise.

However, the researchers are adamant that they are not setting out to create an exercise pill for couch potatoes.

The crucial chemical is an enzyme called calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (CaMK).

Tests on mice have shown that the enzyme boosts the activity of slow-twitch muscles - the kind that are used in endurance exercise such as running a marathon.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina and the University of Texas say that it is potentially possible to achieve the same effect with a drug.

Researcher Dr Sanders Williams said: "An inability to exercise complicates many chronic medical conditions and makes those conditions worse.

"For example, we know that heart failure patients who exercise regularly feel better and over time acquire a greater capacity to exercise, but many are unable to perform the amount of exercise necessary to produce the favourable effects.

"One application of this discovery, if it leads to the development of drugs to activate this pathway, would to be help improve the quality of life of people who have such chronic diseases."

Engine room

The researchers genetically engineered mice that produce an overactive form of CaMK in their muscles.

The enzyme controls production of mitochondria - the structures in cells that produce energy.

People who exercise regularly have more mitochondria in their muscles than those who are sedentary. So did the mice.

Dr Williams said that if the same effect could be mimicked in drug form it could lead to other benefits throughout the body.

For instance, it might improve the way the body breaks down fat and sugar - raising the possibility that it could help to ward off diabetes and heart disease.

However, the researchers warn that if it is possible to exercise, that is still the best option.

Research has shown that exercise has a benefical impact not only on physical health, but on mental wellbeing too.

This is because it releases chemicals called endorphins that help to raise mood.

The research is published in the journal Science.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Health
Physical training in your dreams
27 Sep 01 | Health
Why exercise cheers you up
20 May 01 | Health
Exercise 'helps mental health'
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