Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Exercise in a Pill

Now comes news that researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego have discovered a synthetic chemical that improves the physical stamina of laboratory mice on a treadmill by 44 percent over their non-doped buddies. The discovery immediately sparked speculation that scientists might one day create an “exercise pill” for humans that could put the most sluggish couch potato on a physiological par with the most avid of exercisers – with no additional effort.

The revelation is particularly pertinent to Boomers who have reached an age in which their physical fitness is experiencing a steady, seemingly inexorable slide. Although many Boomers have incorporated exercise into their lifestyles more passionately than previous generations have, that commitment requires a tremendous effort. Who wouldn’t like to spend less time on the treadmill and more time playing Sudoku or snoozing in the hammock?

The quest for youthful vigor is hardly unique to Boomers, of course. Human beings have been searching for an antidote to the aging process at least since Juan Ponce de Leon undertook his unsuccessful search for the fountain of youth (we wonder if he was friends with Luigi Cornaro). Assuming we can believe Wikipedia, ol’ Juan was seeking a remedy for sexual impotence. If the Spaniards had had Viagra back then, he might never have been motivated to discover Florida.

Speaking of Viagra, pills for sexual impotence already rank among the biggest selling pharmaceuticals in the world. Meanwhile, scientists are researching chemical compounds that can halt the effects of aging on memory and mental processing speeds. Although it’s a long journey from a chemical that works on mice in a lab to a drug safe for humans, it may be only a matter of time before “exercise pills” become a reality.

How long before there’s a pill to effortlessly perfect every human frailty? How will that impact the way we value effort and self discipline? And how will the demand of the huge and affluent Boomer generation skew research priorities toward lifestyle drugs, away from life-saving pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and orphan drugs that treat small but needy populations?

We don’t pretend to know. But stay tuned. We’ll follow the emerging debate.


Erin Read Ruddick said...

I really appreciate the questions you've raised in this post.

Anyone who's seen Pixar's wonderful "WALL-E" has been given an image of what could happen if we can use pills and technology instead of our own effort and self-discipline.

I am now inspired to break free from the computer and go for a walk ...

- Erin Ruddick
Creating Results, LLC

Rita said...

Your blog leaves the impression that prescription drugs are going to solve all of boomer ills. About 100,000 people die each year from the side effects of these drugs. Prescription drugs are among the top five killers of people in the United States. Public Citizen recommends that you shouldn't take a prescription drug unless it's been on the market for seven years -- exceptions are breakthrough drugs. You may want to write about this.

I write a blog for boomer consumers called The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com.


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