The new drug is in the very early stages of development, but early experiments on rodents have shown that it provides a natural metabolic benefit that is often triggered by exercise.

The drug, called SLU-PP-332, boosts muscle function, fitness and endurance when administered daily to mice.

And it does all this without requiring the animals to move more than they are used to.

In previous experiments, Elgendy and colleagues have shown that when mice are given SLU-PP-332, it increases the type of fatigue-resistant muscle fiber in their bodies.

This increases the rodents' endurance on the treadmill, allowing them to run 70 percent longer and 45 percent farther than those who did not receive the drug.

This is probably because skeletal muscle cells are better able to maintain energy balance.

Further experiments found that mice that received SLU-PP-332 twice a day for a month became 10 times less fat than untreated mice, even though they continued to eat the same amount of food and exercise the same amount as before.

This doesn't mean that SLU-PP-332 is a perfect substitute for exercise, but it does trigger a molecular pathway that transmits the many benefits of exercise to the heart, brain and kidneys.

If researchers can successfully target the same metabolic pathway in humans, it could "enable the development of treatments for some of the most challenging diseases we face today, such as neurodegenerative diseases and heart failure," said lead researcher and chemist Bahaa Elgendy of the University of Washington, who presented the results of the study at the Spring 2024 meeting of the American Chemical Society.

For years, scientists around the world have been working to develop an 'exercise pill' that could transfer at least some of the benefits of exercise to those who need it.

Physical activity utilizes numerous metabolic pathways that can improve human health in a wide variety of ways.