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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 30, 2008

Workout in a Pill?

By Worker Bee

miceAs you probably already know, we here at MDA are all about making informed decisions that produce the best results with a minimal amount of effort. For example, what’s the point in running yourself to death when you can achieve better results with a short and intense workout session? In this sense we are all for shortcuts. We love ’em. Why take the long, circuitous path from A to B when you can get there by walking (or sprinting!) a straight line? But we normally discount the effectiveness of pharmaceutical shortcuts. Why? Shortcuts that involve pills usually never work – especially in achieving long term health or fitness goals. Pharma attempts at wellness almost always have a tough time seeing the forest for the trees. Gene expression is much more nuanced enterprise than a pill can account for. In other words, when it comes to popping a pill it is difficult to know what is going on behind the curtain. So when we read about a new pill being developed that chemically mimics the effects of exercise in lab mice, you can imagine how skeptical we were.

A team of scientists from the Salk Institute’s Gene Expression Laboratory has created a pill that they promise to be the shortest, simplest route to fitness. Untrained, sedentary mice were given the drug for four weeks and saw huge gains in endurance and weight loss. Compared to untrained, sedentary mice not given the drug, the pill poppers ran 44 percent longer on a treadmill – almost as if they had been exercising all their lives. Even for avowed adherents to the Primal Blueprint like us, a quick-fix exercise pill is mighty tempting. But wouldn’t that go against our commitment to better living through lifestyle changes, as opposed to chemistry?

Looking at our philosophy more in depth, you’ll realize that we’re not against the healing power of modern medicine if it addresses health problems that cannot be solved by lifestyle changes. Also, we’re not skeptical of pills simply because they are unnatural and man-made; we follow the Primal Blueprint because it appears to be the most effective way to achieve lasting health, fitness, and longevity. It’s more a matter of utility than dogma. The Primal Blueprint works, so we follow it. Pretty simple, right? All skepticism aside, if this exercise pill were to actually deliver on its promises without ill effects, we’d be all over it like mice on cheese (sorry about that).

We have to admit that the potential for such a drug to exist raises many questions. If modern science created a pill that provided all the benefits of living Primally, would you take it? If you could eat junk food and never work out, but still live a long and healthy life, would you? When it comes to longevity, when does the end trump the means? Every time?

Whatever your answers to these thought experiments are you have some waiting to do before reality catches up to the imaginary. As it stands, the pill appears to just be a boon for potential rodent marathon runners. The mice showed definite improvement in slow-twitch muscle fibers (oh boy, our favorite!), but there was no mention of strength or speed increases (of far more interest to Grok and his ilk). Of course, a mouse’s raw power and maximum foot speed probably aren’t the easiest things to test. And seeing as the traditional metric of fitness is still aerobic endurance, it’s safe to assume the scientists at Salk Institute weren’t overly concerned with recording anaerobic performance.

We’re willing to give the exercise pill a chance in theory, but until they teach mice to do Tabatta burpees and clean-and-jerks and measure the results (cats worldwide hope they’re inconclusive), or they start testing on humans, we’ll hold strong to our skepticism of Big Pharma and wait to see how things pan out. In the meantime it is good fodder for philosophical questions about what it means to live a healthy life. Hit us up with your thoughts!

Rick Eh? Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

More of the Worker Bees’ Weekly Bites

Are New Prescription Drugs Safe?

Deconstructing Healthcare: A Modest Proposal

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7 Comments on "Workout in a Pill?"


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9 years 22 days ago

this is a great bit of info. This site is GREAT. Will be back for more

Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later
History is littered with examples of science trying to give us shortcuts before then having to clamber to deal with the unintended consequences. To name but one, the introduction of certain artificial sweeteners later found to have harmful effects. When the human body is so complex, we cannot assume we can change one variable and have it affect only the one thing we happen to be interested in. I’ve been discussing about this from a nutritional perspective myself – The Professor Diet – Eat as much Junk as you like. It seems like these researchers may have good intentions but… Read more »
9 years 22 days ago

For me part of the enjoyment of being healthy is the process. You can’t get that in a pill. I enjoy the journey. It makes me stronger not only physically, but mentally as well.

8 years 6 months ago

I don?t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. I?ve been experiencing this very same problem with a new WordPress installation of mine. I?ve spent weeks calibrating and getting it ready when all of a sudden? I cannot delete any content. It?s a workaround that, although isn?t perfect, does the trick so thanks! I really hope this problem gets solved properly asap.

8 years 6 months ago

Ive always wondered as to how trustworthy can drugs be if they have only been tested on rats. I mean, human bodies are quite different than animals, so how do they know if something works on a rat that it will work just as well on a human?

Tom Sers
Tom Sers
7 years 10 months ago
The Dr Max Powers Anabolic Stack is the most effective product ive tried, I used1 stack pack (pack of pills) per day for exactly 4 weeks. For the first week nothing really different happened to me just felt jittery during the day but then week two rolled around and that was when things started to be noticed. So here I am at the end of the cycle, last pills were taken yesterday and im about 14lbs heavier and alot stronger. I recommend this to anyone wanting a bit of a jolt with stuborn plateus. Ofcourse its not a miracle pill,… Read more »
7 years 4 months ago

I could see this helping people who’ve been bedridden for a long time.