Could a diabetes pill really be a miracle replacement for exercise?

A protein activated by metformin, a medication taken by millions of diabetics, could potentially replicate the health benefits of exercise.

Similar to the diabetes pill metformin, a US drug named GW1516 was originally developed by GlaxoSmithKline in the 1990s.

GW1516 stimulates a protein called PPARδ, which is key to regulating our metabolism, and promotes effective fat burning and boosts endurance during exercise.

The prospect of an ‘exercise pill’ delivering the benefits of spending hours in the gym might be appealing for many of us, but researchers believe that it could transform the lives of many who are unable to exercise due to conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Professor Richard Mackenzie, a physiologist and metabolism expert at the University of Roehampton said: “For such patients, their muscle mass will deteriorate over a period of time and therefore their health would deteriorate meaning this kind of pill could be of use.”

Prof Mackenzie is investigating a similar protein, called AMPK, that mimics the effects of exercise by inducing pre-diabetes – by raising blood sugar levels beyond the normal range in the body – then reversing the changes with exercise.

He said: “AMPK is the godfather of metabolism.

“It mimics the effects of exercise on fat burning which reduces fat mass in fat tissue.”

However, many other factors can increase the activity of AMPK in the body: intermittent fasting, calorie restrictions, but most importantly, exercise.

THE ZOOM MOVE: For many of us, lockdown has meant that we largely spend more time being inactive.

Peter Walker, author of The Miracle Pill, said: “The miracle pill is basically doing anything, it doesn’t have to be doing two hours in the gym every day, it can be something as basic doing just 15 minutes [of activity] here and there.

“So if you’re completely inactive, and you start doing something even quite minimum, like walking for 10 minutes a day, then suddenly the health benefits will multiply.”

Research by Sport England found that roughly four in 10 British adults exercise so little they risk their long-term health.

Around a quarter are almost completely inactive, meaning they exercise for less than 30 minutes a week.

Walker added: “A lot of people will have this attitude that if their BMI is above what’s seen as a normal level, they think, ‘it’s not worth exercising, activity isn’t going to do me any good’.

“If you’re more active, then your health will get much, much better.”

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