Scientists have developed a pill that tricks the body into responding as though it has exercised.
In ‘groundbreaking research’, they have identified for the first time a key protein the body releases during workouts.
Switching this on in mice was found to give the benefits of physical activity without breaking sweat.
Named Piezo 1, the protein acts as an ‘exercise sensor’, boosting blood flow to the brain and muscles to sustain activity, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications.
These changes may be partly responsible for the positive effects of exercise, including lower risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer, experts from Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine believe.
Leeds scientists have discovered a protein that triggers the benefits of exercise by boosting blood flow to the brain and muscles (file photo)
On tests on mice, the researchers say that the protein’s release could be triggered by a tablet containing the known compound Yoda 1 – named after the Star Wars Jedi master.
During physical activity, the heart pumps more blood around the body.
Yoda 1 was found to mimic this action of increasing blood flow in the lining of the arteries taking blood from the heart to the stomach and intestines.
It slightly alters the electrical balance, resulting in the blood vessels constricting. This allows more blood to reach the brain and muscles actively engaged in exercise.
Lead researcher Professor David Beech said: ‘One of our ideas is that Piezo1 has a special role in controlling blood flow to the intestines and this is really an important part of the body when we start to think about something called the metabolic syndrome which is associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
‘By modifying this protein in the intestines then perhaps we could overcome some of the problems of diabetes and perhaps this Yoda1 compound could target the Piezo1 in the intestinal area to have a functional effect.
‘It may be that by understanding the working of the Yoda1 experimental molecule on the Piezo1 protein, we can move a step closer to having a drug that can help control some major chronic conditions.’
Professor Beech and his team have received funding from the British Heart Foundation to move to the next phase of the project.
Working with chemists also based at the University at Leeds, they will modify the Yoda1 molecule so it can be used on further animal studies.
The drug, which may have human trials within five years, would not fully replace exercise, said Professor Beech.
But he added: ‘It could be taken in addition to a walk, for instance, so that a walk becomes more like a run.’
WALKING IMPROVES MOOD
The mere act of putting one foot in front of the other for a few minutes can significantly boost our mood, a study has discovered.
And it doesn’t matter where we do it, why we do it, who we do it with, or what effect we expect the walk to have.
Psychologists say the happiness-causing effects arise from the actual physical movement which is connected to how we evolved to move to find food and other rewards.
The researchers say their study is the first to show this by stripping away all the many factors associated with exercise – such as getting fresh air, being in nature and the satisfaction of reaching fitness goals.
Essentially, ‘movement not only causes increased positive affect [emotional feelings] … but movement partially embodies, or in a sense reflects, positive affect,’ the study authors from The Iowa State University wrote in the paper published in the journal Emotion.