Fat Books & Thin Women

#Longreads : “Exercise in a Pill”
October 5, 2011, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Favorite Longreads | Tags: , , , , , ,

Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Michael Behar’s “Exercise in a Pill” hits some hot-button issues (obesity, daily exercise to counter obesity, drug use among professional athletes, drug marketing) surrounding research of a “miracle drug” to turn couch potatoes into endurance athletes. Pretty much from the start, Behar expresses his belief that these claims are dubious, writing:

I first heard about Evans on the NBC Nightly News, shortly after slogging through a 40-minute treadmill run at my gym. When a smirking Brian Williams flashed the onscreen headline exercise in a pill, my bullshit meter redlined.

My bullshit meter redlined too, when I started this article. It was still redlining at the end, but Behar’s look at Ron Evans and his efforts to produce a drug to boost physical endurance in humans is so interesting that it doesn’t much matter where you land on the bullshit to awesome scale. In effect, what Evans is striving to do is to reproduce the effects of exercise (see: exercising increases the number of slow-twitch fibers in your muscles, which then increases your endurance – aka, the reason we can’t hop off our sofas and run a marathon with no training) through drugs, which can then be marketed to all the people (I mean, really, all. the. people. – as Behar points out, who wouldn’t want this?) who are interested, for reasons of health or laziness, in becoming better athletes without actually having to exercise.

So many weird things here. First, as Behar writes, Evans’ research may well come to nothing:

the list of prototype miracle drugs that performed spectacularly in mice, and then failed catastrophically during human clinical trials, is long and sordid.

Second: isn’t the whole idea of taking a drug to skip over exercise just…bizarre? And even if Evans’ miracle drugs do come through eventually, allowing people to slim down while watching TV and washing down their Hershey’s bars with Coca-Cola, wouldn’t some pretty huge benefits of exercise still be missing? True, I speak as someone who sometimes likes exercise and is dreading super psyched for the reintroduction of regular runs to my life once I move to Tirana, but Evans’ research seems like just one more worrying step in the direction of becoming as lazy as we can be, but still looking awesome and healthy.

Do I overreact? Or am I just behind the times for thinking that it’s weird to be seeking yet another way to best Mother Nature?

Read Michael Behar’s “Exercise in a Pill”


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I consider myself a pretty dedicated exercise avoider, but this is just weird. And once you get to the really nitty-gritty explanation of how it works on a cellular level, it only gets weirder.

As much as I hate them, I’ll keep my daily walks.

Comment by ohemgillie

Right, I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open for about half the article. I guess there are rare cases, ie if there’s someone who really CAN’T exercise, when this sort of thing would do some good…but seriously? the whole idea of it freaks me out. at one point in the article they mention that there’s a mental aspect to what the best athletes do, and that’s what the whole idea of “exercise in a pill” seems to miss out on… all the mental benefits of exercise that you can’t get by sitting on your sofa.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

There is no pill that can replace working your ass off. Its crazy how many millions are spent on nonsense. Run until you puke, that’s my motto!

Comment by textbookgeek

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