We have exercise in a pill,” said Ron Evans, an author of the study (of mice that burned calories without moving). “With no exercise, you can take a drug and chemically mimic it.” — Associated Press, 31 July.
It’s all very cozy here in 2025, but what must life have been like before the pill?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In 2008 — the year Evans et al. showed that lab mice could get a fat-busting workout while pinned to a corkboard and Pfizer jumped into research on its blockbuster exercise drug Potaton — people were still dashing about and flailing their limbs, often outside their homes, to tone their hearts and lose weight.
Some joined “the gym”, a vast room in which already-fit people grew fitter while watching shows with names such as StreetSmart. Others, we know from grainy old commercials, purchased industrial car-wash flagellators from TV at 3am and attached them to their “tummies”. Still others aped the video exertions of stars who cried, “Ladies, if I can do this, you can do this”, as fascinated husbands looked on. From well-preserved footwear artefacts we know people paid $258 (around Rs11,000) for sneakers with VibroFlex Heels and CushionCubing, produced for $7 in southern China, then for $12 as labour costs soared.
Amusingly, even when not exercising, people used to “get up” and go places. To “go” somewhere, they would flex and extend their legs in alternation and swing their arms for no apparent purpose. This comical motion can still be observed in the vintage cinema of the times: folks scurrying about with guns and kisses, all flushed and excited, like idiots.
Today, merely by popping one of Pfizer’s little beige pills, we can run the New York City marathon from bed, as it is now run by most of its 50,000 participants, with the shiny Mylar “I Ran the Marathon” capes delivered door-to-door and only the 86-year-old competitors, who lead the evening news in the absence of a homicide, still out there pounding down their last knee cartilage in Central Park.
By doubling our dose, we can visit the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, California, without ever leaving the sofa. “There,” in La Jolla, we can read Evans’ notebooks and relive his heady discovery:
“Tuesday, 17.00. I despair. Will we ever get results? Suddenly, I hear my assistant, Bruno, calling: ‘Dr Evans, come here. I need you!’ Bruno is an ironist. But sure enough, when I hurry into Lab C — where Donny, our favourite pink hybrid, has been injected daily with 150ccs of Aicar and securely pinioned for six weeks — I am astonished to see his six-pack abs and flat tummy. ‘Donny!’ I cry. ‘And without any exercise? Get out of town!’ He sneers at me from the pinions like Brando, as if to say, ‘You get out of town, Evans, I don’t need to go nowhere. I’m taking my weekend jog right now.’”
Indeed, Donny’s travelling days were over, and with his, ours. The science sprinted ahead, Potaton arrived and Pfizer’s market cap surpassed ExxonMobil’s, just as Lipitor was going off patent and people were trying to put it in their gas tanks.
You know the rest: Lilly came along with Statica, the exercise-and-adventure drug with an array of colour-coded pills for different “outdoor” experiences, and its boffo ad campaign, The 57 Flavours of Indolence. Then came AstraSquibbeca with Locus, and then Pfizer, again, with Vicarium.
I’m on Vicarium right now, in fact, at the wheel of a racing yacht in a white-knuckled regatta, while I sit on my sofa and shift my weight occasionally to avoid bedsores, as directed. It’s perfect for me, couch sailing: I love the savage sea as much as I hate getting wet.
And that’s how most of us feel, I think. It’s hard to imagine why you’d want to do anything, really. No wonder they replaced Viagra with WhyBotha.
Everybody at the office has read the new Bernanke book, Enough of This Job, but it weighs a ton and I just don’t have the time. So I popped a Simutab (BristolRoche) and “read” it during metabolosis — and I bet most of my colleagues did the same. These days, I do all my investing by drug, usually Statica Lemon-Lime, and I understand Bill Gross does, too. Boysenberry, I’ve “read”.
Just out of curiosity, I did actually argue with my wife last night. It was exhausting. But instead of arguing back, she just cut a Vicarium in half (a contemptuous gesture?) to make the point that I’m always wrong. I countered with a double dose of Statica, which noted her family’s history of meddling.
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