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Exercise Pill A Miracle Or Dangerous Shortcut?

05/05/2017 12:19

As busy people, we all look for quick fixes to cure our problems. Taking a pill has become the ultimate short-cut. Feeling stressed? Lacking energy? Want to lose weight? There's a pill for that.

Now, according to scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego, there's even a pill that can deliver the benefits of training.

This so-called "miracle" pill has the potential to mimic the effects of going to the gym and could revolutionise fitness, claim new reports this week. It sounds like the perfect remedy for all people with busy lives.

But is this too good to be true? And, more importantly, what's the future for a nation of pill-poppers?

Researchers say the findings offer hope to people with heart conditions, disabilities or other health issues that prevent them from exercising. In tests, it is said to boost athletic endurance by 70 per cent, improving stamina and weight-loss in inactive mice by mimicking the effect of a hard workout.

However, as someone who has learned the benefits of being healthy the hard way - through real exercise - I'm convinced this is one short-cut to fitness that's going to lead us to a dead end. Just as you cannot substitute a well balanced diet with a vitamin pill, an exercise pill cannot replace a healthy lifestyle.

The message such a pill conveys is that it's OK to be lazy. Most people - including those with health conditions - should exercise more, but what it says is why bother to walk around the park or go for a swim, when we can just pop a pill and become a couch potato. Whatever happened to no pain, no gain?

Not putting enough effort into maintaining our health is one of the key reasons Britain has fallen behind many Western countries on progress in managing preventable diseases. Last month a report by the British Heart Foundation identified more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive. One in four adults do less than 30 minutes exercise a week, never mind achieve the government guideline of 150 minutes.

Meanwhile, obesity is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the UK, stemming from a collective failure by Britons to take simple steps to develop a healthy lifestyle and eat sensibly.

If people really want to tackle ill health, then it's crucial to move away from a culture where we think pills will fix our problems. Most studies show pills and other fixes generally do more harm than good.

Health and science aside, swallowing a pill will never bring the sense of reward and achievement you get from exercise. Have you ever been handed something on a silver platter? Just like a pill, it never quite compares to the satisfaction of working hard for something and knowing you have truly earned it.

Medical advances that bring relief to people with long-term illnesses should be welcomed, as should scientific research into the drivers of endurance. But for the great majority of us, this new terrain should be viewed with caution.

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