Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Birth Control Makes You Weak, Running Makes You Wrinkly

From the same people who decided to kill off Bert on Sesame Street, comes our depressing research news for the day.

Birth Control Pills Make You Weak
Every girl now knows that strength training is integral to good health. It shores up our bones, helps us live longer, and - of course - helps us look better in a bikini. Gone are the days where thin was good enough to strut your stuff. Now, as every ladymag will helpfully point out (in 6 weeks or less!), you need to be toned. And for once I do actually agree with them. I not only feel healthier and think I look better since I started lifting weights but I also feel more powerful, a much-needed boon to my piddling self esteem.

Unfortunately, according to a new study from Texas A&M University and the University of Pittsburgh, your birth control pill could be undoing all those gains. Researchers took 73 premenopausal healthy women and divided them into two groups. The first group took oral contraceptives while the second did not. (I’m assuming that the groups were self selecting.) Both groups were then put on a 10-week strength training program where all the participants did 3 days a week of the same weight lifting program, supervised by exercise physiologists and controlled for number and intensity of exercises. Particpants were also told to get a minimum of 0.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight a day.

At the end of the ten weeks, the women off the pill built 60% more muscle than women on the pill. 60-freakin’-percent. That’s a lot of lean muscle. Researchers theorized the lack of gains was due to increased levels of cortisol (the dreaded muscle canabalizing stress hormone) and decreased levels of testosterone (yes, girls have it too), as evidenced by blood tests.

This brings up an interesting point that I have been wondering about lately. From my experience, pregnancy generally seems to make me a bit weaker when it comes to weights. There are many possible causes for this like fatigue, nausea and stretching ligaments, but deep down it feels as if I’m just inherently weaker when I’m pregnant. And since the pill works by mimicking low levels of pregnancy hormones, I’m guessing that the real deal will work on muscles the same way. (Note to researchers: if you want a pregnant fitness guinea pig - call me!!) During my last pregnancy, I focused on just maintaining my muscle mass until about 8 months and then it seemed like a downhill slide to the finish line. I definitely had to make up for the loss after the baby was born.

This also has interesting implications for the does-birth-control-make-you-gain-weight question. Obviously if a woman is on the pill, now known to increase cortisol and decrease (or at least impede the formation of new) lean muscle mass, then it would absolutely affect her weight.

I would assume these conclusions would hold true for any type of hormonal birth control. So where does that leave a girl who wants to get lean but not pregnant?

Running Makes You Wrinkly
On a slightly more frivolous note, the morning radio show I sometimes listen to (the same one that once based an entire 30-minute segment on whether or not you can tell if someone is obese over the phone) reported that “it’s a fact that running makes you wrinkle prematurely.” The DJ based her assertion on “research” that has shown that repeated high-impact activities cause gravity to work harder on the body, specifically causing the delicate skin on the face to sag earlier than non-runners.

When someone says research, I say Google! It’s like my own version of Marco-Polo but more educational. After much searching of the Great Internet, I discovered many anecdotal reports of premature wrinkling due to running but no actual research. The London Times reports

Claims made recently by one American plastic surgeon that running is the biggest cause of premature wrinkles after smoking and sunbathing are dismissed as absurd by most experts.

"Anyone who loses too much weight, whether they run or not, will look more haggard," Brewer says "In general, running makes you more youthful because it results in a firmer, better-toned body and improved circulation."

So it appears that as long as you wear sunscreen and a hat to minimize sun exposure while running outside, you can probably cross this fear off your list. Now you can spend your time worrying about more important things - like birth control!

Any of you have any personal experience with either of these topics? Anyone else hyperventilating over their choice of birth control now?