How many people would choose to pop a pill instead of going to the gym if they knew the same health benefits awaited either way?

Well, a new drug being developed at the University of Michigan might soon give us the chance to find out. Researchers there say that having tested the naturally occurring protein Sestrin on mice and flies, they appear to be able to mimic the effects of exercise on both.

Sestrin accumulates in the muscle following exercise, and, as the Michigan research team explain, the protein has the effect of coordinating improved respiration, fat burning, and aerobic capacity.

“We propose that Sestrin can coordinate these biological activities by turning on or off different metabolic pathways,” Prof. Jun Hee Lee explains. “This kind of combined effect is important for producing exercise’s effects.”

If successful in demonstrating a positive effect on the human body, the benefits of a Sestrin pill would likely go beyond those who could otherwise work out, potentially helping the elderly, the sick, and those experiencing muscle atrophy in recovery.

The flies tested with Sestrin were found to be physically superior when compared to flies that had already been training for three weeks on a tiny treadmill developed by the research team. Surprisingly the flies given a maximum dosage of Sestrin did not become fitter with exercise.

The mice used for trials were all bred without the ability to produce Sestrin, and none were found to become more fit even after sustained exercise.

Although they don’t expect a Sestrin product on the shelves soon, one of the team’s top priorities now is identifying how exercise produces Sestrin in the body.

The study is published in Nature Communications.