For all who have wondered if they could enjoy the benefits of exercise without the pain of exertion, the answer may one day be yes — just take a pill that tricks the muscles into thinking they have been working out furiously.
Researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego reported that they had found two drugs that did wonders for the athletic endurance of couch potato mice. One drug, known as Aicar, increased the mice’s endurance on a treadmill by 44 percent after just four weeks of treatment. A second drug, GW1516, supercharged the mice to a 75 percent increase in endurance but had to be combined with exercise to have any effect.
“It’s a little bit like a free lunch without the calories,” said Dr. Ronald M. Evans, leader of the Salk group. The results, Dr. Evans said, seem reasonably likely to apply to people, who control muscle tone with the same underlying genes as do mice. If the drugs work and prove to be safe, they could be useful in a wide range of settings.
They should help people who are too frail to exercise and those with health problems like diabetes that are improved with exercise, Dr. Evans said. The chemicals involved are already available, and such muscle-enhancing drugs would also have obvious appeal to athletes seeking to gain an edge in performance. Dr. Evans said athletes often showed up at public lectures he had given and asked him about the drugs. (It wasn't me, I sware)