Take Two of These and Call Me from the Podium


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Outside magazine, January 1999

Take Two of These and Call Me from the Podium
Will a new wonder drug replace exercise?

By Theodore Spencer

Here it is, the news we’ve all been patiently awaiting (at least on our unmotivated days): A recent scientific breakthrough could lead to the making of a pill that will serve as a substitute for exercise. University of Texas
Southwestern molecular biologist R. Sanders Williams says his team has already tackled the first step, mapping the genetic pathway to the development of certain muscle fibers. “You need to know how something works before you can fix it,” Williams explains. “Now that we know what’s going on in the muscle, we could be able to do what exercise does with a drug.”

Though it’s conceivable that you may someday be able to shovel down beer nuts, guzzle their namesake beverage, and simultaneously chisel your physique, you probably won’t be tempted for another decade. Even then, Williams insists, such a pharmaceutical would be a pale substitute for exercise, since it would spur only the growth of muscle, which won’t do a thing for
your cardiovascular cause. The real purpose of the research, he says, is to find a way to restore cardiac muscle lost through weakening ailments such as congestive heart failure. For now, at least, you’ll want to hold off on buying those beer nuts in bulk.

Illustration by Bruce Heavin