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Saturday, Dec 07, 2019

Slower, lower, stronger

Researchers have manufactured a drug that will make phyical exercise redundant. The drug can make a couch potato run about 44 pc more and 23 pc longer than those who haven’t taken the wonder-pill, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2008 22:32 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

Every four years, I get reminded by the Olympic Games that I once had a brief and rather tumultuous relationship with my body. Not that I ever considered the body to be a temple. But for four-odd years in the early 80s, I took pride and joy in competitive swimming. In the thick of those choppy chlorinated years, I even went regularly to a sort of middle-class akhada, where apart from contorting my body, I also lifted a few rudimentary weights. (The closest I’ve ever come to a gym is when I’ve indulged in a round of Jim Beam.)

Apart from that, my athletic capabilities were well below par — my enthusiasm, rather than any talent, getting me into the class football and hockey B teams (this in a class of around 40 students, with 11 chaps already part of the class A teams). All that, thankfully, went for a toss by the time I reached what can be unsafely called ‘maturity’. Since then I can honestly say, to quote a line from a Kinks song, “I’m not the world’s most physical guy.”

By the time I entered the grand lobby of manhood, I started taking a perverted pleasure in not caring about the physical condition or capabilities of my body (which may have accounted for feminine hostility). That happily remains the case. Despite this metaphysical approach to my own physical well-being, I have always been a enthusiastic spectator of any spectator sport fervently believing that the only objective judgement one can make in this world is what the scoreline says. (Which is why ‘subjective’ activities like synchronised swimming and literature leave me neither here nor there.)

While I can hear titters from my country’s ex-Olympians (99.99 per cent of whom have the same number of Olympic medals on their mantelpiece as I do), let me tell them that I have full support from Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who in a recent interview has stated that his decision as the editor of the now defunct magazine, Sportsworld, to have cricketers writing about cricket was a terrible idea. (They couldn’t — and can’t — write.) So my point is: you can be a slouch and rejoice in the glory of sports from that ergonomic sofa.

But let me be brutally honest. My body has started creaking and in certain circles, I would be what is scientifically known as ‘unfit’. But I’ll be damned if I give up the hedonistic pleasures of not moving any more muscles than absolutely necessary, the antitragicus transverse muscle in the ear included.

Which is why the most brilliant piece of news to have come out in the last one week — hell, since I first came across the wonder of a television remote control in the early 90s! — has been the scientific journal Cell headline: ‘AMPK and PPAR Agonists Are Exercise Mimetics’. Isn’t that absolutely fantastic? No? Oh.

Hang on. What the paper published by the researchers says is that they’ve manufactured a drug (they’re calling it AICAR, but a snappy PR man will surely think up of something a bit more snappy soon) that will make phyical exercise redundant. From the experiments already conducted, AICAR can make a subject who is essentially a couch potato run about 44 per cent more and 23 per cent longer than those who haven’t popped the wonder-pill. The researchers talk about a 68 per cent and 70 per cent corresponding increase if AICAR is taken along with exercise, but I have a feeling that Big Gym — the multi-billion dollar pro-gym equipment lobby — leaned on them heavily and forced them to add that lest gyms become defunct overnight. But most importantly, the drug simulates the effects of a damn-good work-out without the user actually having to work out. In other words, a no-sweat fitness regime.

So as I wait to pop my round of AICARs that will make my midlife midriff tyre disappear even as I chug on my six-pack (not abs, but beer), let me enjoy the rivetting round of beach volleyball on TV and prepare for the Olympics to begin in five days’ time. I dearly hope that the AICAR experiments so successful on mice will quickly work on slacker humans like me too.