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All the benefits of exercise, from a pill?

Good news for couch potatoes: Researchers are developing a drug that provides all the benefits of exercise, with no actual workout required, according to the New York Times.

In a study published in Nature Medicine, researchers injected a compound into obese mice that increased production of the muscle protein REV-ERB, which is known to have an impact on sleep and on animals’ internal biological clocks.

The animals injected with the compound lost weight and improved their cholesterol levels – even when on a high-fat diet, the New York Times reported. Furthermore, the injected mice also used more oxygen during the day and expended 5 percent more energy compared to mice in the control group – even though they were not exercising more.

Researchers also examined the effect that REV-ERB had on muscles by engineering a test group of mice designed to express abnormally low levels of REV-ERB. This group of engineered mice were highly un-athletic, exhibiting very low levels of endurance and displaying a maximum oxygen capacity approximately 60 percent lower than that of normal mice.

However, when researchers injected these mice with the compound, they were able to stimulate the production of REV-ERB, strengthening the muscles of the weakened mice, according to the New York Times. 

Additionally, when researchers injected the compound into sedentary mice, the animals were then able to run longer and for greater distances than untreated mice.

The drug "certainly seems to act as an exercise mimic," study co-author Thomas Burris, chairman of the department of pharmacological and physiological science at St. Louis University School of Medicine, said.

Though it is still unclear whether or not the drug can be safely used in humans, researchers hope it will someday be used to help disabled people experience some of the health benefits of exercise.

Click for more from the New York Times.