When Dads Exercise, Kids Are Healthier

©. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (used with permission)

The benefits of exercise, even prior to conception, are passed on to children and remain throughout adulthood.

Are you looking to start a family in the near future? Then here is some practical advice that may not be what you expect: Head to the gym! Researchers at Ohio State University College of Medicine have discovered that fathers who exercised prior to conception had children with better metabolic health that carried well into adulthood. The results have just been published in the journal Diabetes.

Using mice, researchers fed the adult males two diets; one was normal and the other was high in fat for three weeks. Some mice from each diet group were sedentary and some exercised freely. After three weeks, the mice bred, and their offspring ate a normal diet under sedentary conditions for a year.

What the researchers found later was that the mice whose fathers had exercised showed improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight, and less fat mass. The offspring of fathers that had eaten a high-fat diet had worse metabolic health and higher glucose intolerance; however, when these same fathers exercised in addition to eating poorly, it negated the damaging effects of the high-fat diet. Lead study author Kristin Stanford said,

"When the dad exercised, even on a high-fat diet, we saw improved metabolic health in their adult offspring... We did a full small RNA sequencing and saw several classes of small RNA were changed in response to exercise. So it canceled out the consequences of the father’s poor diet.”
Ohio State researchers

© The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (used with permission)

Obviously these findings relate to mice, so it remains to be seen how closely the results would be mirrored in human populations; but we do know already that human male obesity impairs testosterone levels, sperm number and motility, and decreases the number of live births, so this additional finding is relevant and not surprising. Laurie Goodyear, study co-author, said in a press release:

"Based on both studies, we're now determining if both parents exercising has even greater effects to improve metabolism and overall health of offspring. If translated to humans, this would be hugely important for the health of the next generation."

When establishing a lifelong exercise habit, it's important to enjoy what you do, in order for it to be sustainable. But if optimizing your future kid's chances at health is the motivation you need to get started, go for it. Sign up at a local gym, buy a bicycle, or join a pool. You have everything to gain from it. If that's not inspiration to get your sweat on, I don't know what is.