An exercise pill may sound too good to be true, but new research from the Salk Institute in California suggests it may soon be a possibility. 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.

The study, published online in Metabolism, explains how researchers developed a way to trigger a gene pathway that is normally triggered through running. This allowed sedentary mice to burn more fat and increase endurance without actually running. The researchers hope this finding could one day be used to develop an “exercise pill” for people who can't exercise, such as the elderly or morbidly obese, but who still need to reap the health benefits of working out.

Read: Can Exercise Really Be Replaced By A Pill? A Drug In Combination With Workouts May Be Most Effective, Researchers Say

"It's well known that people can improve their aerobic endurance through training," said senior author Ronald Evans, in a statement. "The question for us was: how does endurance work? And if we really understand the science, can we replace training with a drug?"

The drug at the center of this research is known as GW501516, (GW) and it has already been proven to improve stamina and burn fat faster, The Guardian reported. Working off this information, the researchers identified exactly how the drug brought this about — through how it affected nearly 1,000 genes. The Salk Institute team was particularly focused on the gene PPARD, which becomes activated in long-distance runners and helps them become resistant to weight gain and highly responsive to insulin. Previous research showed that the drug GW could replicate this gene activation. In the current study, the team found that increasing the amount of GW also increased stamina and response to insulin, in addition to preventing weight gain.

"Exercise activates PPARD, but we're showing that you can do the same thing without mechanical training. It means you can improve endurance to the equivalent level as someone in training, without all of the physical effort," says Weiwei Fan, a Salk research associate and the paper's first author, in a statement.

This is not the first time that GW501516 has been identified for its abilities, although it was abandoned in the 80s after it was suspected that high doses may cause cancer, The Guardian reported. The drug is back in the lab, and researchers hope that new insights may address the drug’s potential side effects and make it a safe and effective way to get exercise benefits to those who need them most.

Source: Fan W, Waizenegger W, Lin CS, et al. PPARδ Promotes Running Endurance by Preserving Glucose. Cell Metabolism . 2017

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