Exercise in a bottle

The benefits of exercise may one day be replicated in a pill. But don’t ditch your active wear just yet, it’s not for the able-bodied.

Breakthrough research from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre has uncovered an exercise blueprint which details 1,000 molecular reactions which occur in our muscles when we exercise.

This discovery, published in Cell Metabolism, could pave the way to help develop a drug that mimics the significant health benefits of exercise.

Researchers say an ‘exercise pill’ could be used to help those who are physically incapable of exercising.

“Exercise is the most powerful therapy for many human diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders,” says Professor David James from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre.

“However, for many people, exercise isn’t a viable treatment option. This means it’s essential we find ways of developing drugs that mimic the benefits of exercise,” he says.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen studied the muscle tissue of four healthy, yet untrained men. The scientists measured their response to ten minutes of high intensity exercise.

Co-author Dr Nolan Hoffman from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science says exercise is essential in regulating energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

 “While scientists have long suspected that exercise causes a complicated series of changes to human muscle, this is the first time we have been able to map exactly what happens,” he says.

“This is a major breakthrough, as it allows scientists to use this information to design a drug that mimics the true beneficial changes caused by exercise,” Dr Hoffman said.

Dr Rob Grenfell, National Medical Director of Bupa Australia says this research highlights why we should exercise regularly.

“This research shows that exercise is a complex human activity and whilst it would be nice to have a simple way like a pill replacing the need to get in daily exercise this, at the moment, is still beyond our reach,” says Dr Grenfell.

“The researchers actually demonstrated certain positive things happen to our body when we do exercise and these factors are interesting for researchers looking at ways to improve things for all of us,” he says.

According to the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour guidelines, Aussie adults should be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.

Those who don’t exercise are encouraged to start by doing a small amount of any physical activity they enjoy (like walking or swimming) and gradually building it up.

“It’s still essential that all able-bodied Australians participate in regular, consistent and moderate exercise.” 

According to the Department of Health we should:


  • Get physical. Start small and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Complete 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity exercise or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of high intensity exercise weekly.
  • Work on strengthening your muscles at least twice a week.


  • Sitting for lengthy periods.
  • Sedentary habits.
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