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When fathers exercise, kids are healthier: how this works

Men listen up!

The lifestyle you’re living right now is having huge effects on the lives of your children; even if they’re not born yet.

A new study is telling us that male exercise habits before conception impact the health of offspring well into their adulthood.

You read that right.

If you exercise right now, your unborn child will end up healthier than if you didn’t.

If you’d like to learn more about the findings of this study, keep reading. I’m going to cover the details of the study and break down the biology that makes this connection between father and unborn child possible.

The research

Here’s a link to the original study published in the journal Diabetes earlier this week. Please check it out.

It’s been shown before that the development of type 2 diabetes and poor metabolic health in children can be linked to the crummy diets of the parents.

What Dr. Kristin Stanford – a physiology and cell biology researcher at the Ohio State University College of Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center – and her team of researchers wanted to know was how exercise in males affects the health of the offspring.

As a tag on, they also looked at the effect a high-fat diet in males had on offspring.

They answered these questions by observing glucose metabolism, body weight, and fat mass in offspring from males placed in four different conditions before they were allowed to breed and produce offspring.

  • Some males were fed a normal diet, then not allowed to exercise
  • Some males were fed a high-fat diet, then not allowed to exercise
  • Some males were fed a normal diet, then allowed to exercise as much as they wanted
  • Some males were fed a high-fat diet, then allowed to exercise as much as they wanted

The male mice from each of these four conditions were then paired with a female, they got jiggy with it, babies were produced, and those babies grew up and their metabolic health was observed.

The results were incredible.

Male mice that exercised produced offspring that had improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight, and decreased fat mass. And these effects lasted long into the adulthood of the offspring.

If that wasn’t incredible enough, the researchers showed that exercise even counteracted the effects of a male high-fat diet!

How this works

The researchers who conducted the study think this is working mainly through something called epigenetics (we’ll get more into this in just a second).

But first, we need to know a little bit about genes and DNA.

The basics of genes

You’ve probably heard of DNA before. If you’ve watched anything like CSI or Jurassic Park you’ve heard the term before.

DNA is the basis of all living things. DNA is a molecule that provides the basic information living things need to live and function.

The easiest way to think of DNA is to think of it like the blueprints of a house.

The blueprints of a house give you all the information you need to build that house. DNA contains all the information you need build and maintain a living thing.

DNA is organized into slightly bigger structures called genes.

In our house-blueprint analogy, genes would be the same as blueprints for individual rooms within the house – it’s a way of organizing a massive amount of information.

To give you an idea of how much information is required to create you and keep you up and running, the human body contains about 20,000 to 25,000 genes!

Most of these genes are exactly the same from person to person.

Only about 1% of genes in humans are slightly different (the DNA code making up the gene isn’t quite the same).

But, it’s the differences in this small number of genes that lead to one person being different from another.

The basics of epigenetics

Differences from person to person can also be controlled with something called epigenetics.

Epi- is a Greek prefix that means: “over, outside of, or around.”

So epigenetics means something “in addition to” the traditionally known way of controlling genes (aka slight variations in the DNA sequence making up genes that we talked about in the previous section).

Epigenetics involve altering gene expression without changing the DNA.

Again going back to the house-blueprint analogy, epigenetics is kind of like a contractor coming in and saying we’re not going to use certain parts of the blueprint but we’ll use others.

It’s an additional level of control.

A level of control that allows your body to respond to your environment and lifestyle.

Now let’s bring this full circle and talk about epigenetics and how it could be allowing dad’s exercise to influence the health of the offspring.

How male exercise impacts the health of the offspring

Each person contains two sets of genes: you get one set from your mom and one set from your dad.

The set of DNA from your dad is housed in the sperm.

As science is now discovering, epigenetic changes can be transferred on to the offspring.

So, when a male exercises, some genes that control glucose metabolism, body weight, and fat mass may be altered by turning some genes on and others off. These changes are occurring at the gene expression level in the dad before he’s even thinking of having a kid.

These beneficial, epigenetic are transferred on to the sperm the man produces.

These sperm then meet up with the egg and the DNA making up the offspring has the beneficial imprint of the father’s activities on it. This allows the child to experience some of those positive effects.

A Healthy Whey of life

I started Healthy Wheys to advocate for living a better, healthier life. It’s good for you, and, as we’re learning, it’s good for your family and the people around you too.

Science is now telling us that the way you live your life could impact the lives of children you don’t even have yet. If that’s not a reason to live a healthier lifestyle, I don’t know what is.

Please contact me if you’d like to start making some decisions that will lead to better health and wellness and a better lifestyle for you and your loved ones. It’s my mission in live to help you out.

Let me know what you think of the study in the comments! Are you an avid exerciser already? Do studies like this provide you with any added motivation?

Resources and further reading

Gene basics

Epigenetics basics

The published study


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