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Two More Excuses to Avoid the Gym

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New weight loss claims have everyone talking. But are they really what they seem to be?

Recently, two news reports have been making waves in the blogosphere: One study claimed taking a pill can mimic the effects of exercise, while another found certain people had a genetic propensity to avoid the gym. But can we really blow off our workout by popping a pill, and blame mom and dad for it all? We consulted an M.D. for the skinny: 

The Claim: Exercise can be duplicated in a bottle.

What if a drug could help you gain the perks of exercise without actually working up a sweat? Well, according to scientists at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, there is such a drug. Here's the deal: Mice who took the drug AICAR burned more calories, had 70 percent more endurance during exercise and less fat than mice who didn't. The study also found the drug increased the portion of "non-fatiguing" or "slow twitch" muscle fibers by 38 percent. Says lead researcher Ron Evans, "We have exercise in a pill. With no exercise, you can take a drug and chemically mimic it."

Could this really be true?

"Despite the Internet buzz, the scientists admitted these results were not an intentional result of their work," says Michael Applebaum, M.D., creator of the "Fit to Parent" program and author of Why Diets Fail: The Simple Mistake That Ruins Millions of Lives. "What's more, they don't have the science down pat. They know it works in mice -- that's it. 

"AICAR activates certain proteins that switch on sets of genes needed for endurance but it doesn't replace exercise," adds Dr. Applebaum. "So people who have difficulty exercising because of a medical condition could benefit from this drug.

 "It's also possible that AICAR protects a person from gaining weight on a high-fat diet, which could help treat obesity," he adds, "but we are so far away from developing a drug that replaces exercise and all its benefits, if ever."

The Claim: Avoiding exercise is genetic.

Don't feel like working out? A new study says gym resistance could be in your genes. After analyzing different strains of mice, scientists discovered there were lots of variations in how much the mice ran -- some ran 40 miles a day and others ran three miles a day, but the difference between them depended on their DNA. Could there really be a laziness gene?

Sorry -- there's no Get-Out-of-Gym pass. "Just like eating, mood, and sexual habits, your exercise habits are largely factored by nature and nurture," Applebaum says. "Sure, it's true certain people have a propensity to excel in different fields, however it's possible to overcome some genetic predispositions with behavior modification." And the opposite is true too: For example, if you and your hubby run half-marathons, your kid won't necessarily want to follow suit, but your influence on his exercise habits may propel his interest in athletics.

What's more, the study showed only half the difference between highly active mice and lazy mice could be attributed to their genetics. So the environment (whether people sit behind a desk all day or do manual labor) has a big impact on how active they are.

"Again, this study has only been done on mice, so the effects on humans are unknown," Dr. Applebaum concludes. "However, since we can modify our genetics with behavior, don't use this study as an excuse to not exercise."

Moms: What's your best excuse for not exercising?

next: Breastfeeding on the Double-D Train
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