‘Exercise Pill’ Only Adds to the “Quick Fix” Mentality in America

Last week, researchers released findings in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Beijing Sport University in China with regards to further understanding of the molecular pathways that make exercise benefit the body. All of a sudden the possibility of an “exercise pill” flooded the media. At first glance, this can seem like the greatest idea ever, but I would say this direction could be the gateway to promoting the wrong attitude towards exercise.

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There is so much that science has given us over the past 20 years. Advanced technology has created new treatments for major diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. We’ve seen positive residual effects of these technologies. However, prevention is still a major problem in America. Many people don’t pay close attention to their diet and focus very little energy on real physical activity. Keeping nutrition aside, exercise has a profound effect on the body, even in just 20 minutes.

We know that exercise has many benefits far beyond weight control. Being active can improve your sleep cycle, strengthen your bones, improve sex life, boost immune system, elevate cognitive function and focus as well as actually fight chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

But let’s explore what actually happens to your body during and after you exercise. For starters, your heart rate quickens in order to circulate more oxygen to the body. Eventually this lowers your resting heart rate as you continue to build endurance. More blood flow is pumped to the muscles needed during exercise and this increased blood flow helps brain cells function at a higher level. This creates a “high” from neurotransmitters or happy hormones such as endorphins and dopamine released during activity. Your lungs will need up to 15 times more oxygen during exercise which improves breathing in a resting state. The kidneys begin to absorb water better, resulting in less urine, keeping you hydrated.

Our body is a machine. And only this machine can result in all of the amazing actions explained above. These molecular pathways activated during exercise are what help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.  In my opinion, a pill will never be able to replace the biological and psychological effect exercise has on us. Of course, scientists are attempting to bottle this effect and lead researchers in this study reviewed a number of exercise pills currently in development and investigated the challenges.

Not everyone naturally falls in love with exercise. Some people naturally gravitate towards wanting and loving being active in whichever way they choose. Others struggle with the idea of running on a treadmill for an hour. The good news is you don’t have to do that. Running or jogging or even walking outside for 20 minutes improves your health in ways you’ll never be able to fully learn. Long-term, 20 minutes of activity for even just 3 days a week can keep you healthy and stave off chronic diseases.

Many people fall into believing that extreme exercise is necessary but a key study in 2012 from the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health found specifically with running that doing so in moderation resulted in living longer. We were built for physical activity, be it running or walking, dancing or swimming.

Other moderate exercise tips:

1. Change it up: Variation yields great results. It's good to embrace high-intensity workouts, just not every single day. By changing it up, you'll confuse your body and that's a good thing.

2. Burn more fat. Slower cardio workouts train your body to use fat as fuel, hence burning it off.

3. Increased energy: Easier paced workouts develop cardiovascular strength, making the heart, lungs and respiratory system more powerful. It also increases the number and size of mitochondria, which are tiny power plants in your cells. The more you have the more energetic you'll feel. 

4. Moderate exercise equals no post-workout hunger: When you go all-in, 100% intensity in a workout, there's a tendency to compensate for those extra calories burned. Eating unhealthy foods after a workout will completely negate all of the benefits. Some studies show that moderate exercise leaves you feeling less hungry afterwards and less likely to consume a fatty meal. 

An exercise pill only contributes further to this “quick fix” mentality in America. Exercise recommendations state that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only 1 in 5 people meet these guidelines.

Now of course, a pill that mimics the effects of exercise could be a positive solution for those who are physically unable to exercise. But that is a small group. Even the researchers claimed that it’s unrealistic to expect that any exercise pill developed will ever be able to substitute for the effects of physical exercise.

Exercise is often thought of as a means to an end. A.K.A losing weight. But perhaps if we stopped thinking about exercise as a weight loss mechanism or even a fighter of chronic disease, we would better incorporate it into our daily lives.  What if we changed our view of exercise to be more central around the immediate benefits such as better sleep and improved focus? Maybe then, we would actually embrace getting off the couch.