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

 

Lean muscle gain and genetics: What the newest science has to say about it

We all know that person. They seem to just look at a weight and their biceps automatically get bigger. And they look at you in utter confusion when you describe your problems making gains. They just don’t understand it.

Lucky for you, you’re not crazy. This phenomenon isn’t just in your head. There’s some solid science backing it up.

A group of researchers in the department of Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts assessed 587 men and women before and after 12 weeks of progressive, dynamic resistance training. They were looking for changes in muscle size and strength. Their results were quite interesting in that they were all over the place. And this was for both men and women. Some experienced huge gains in both strength and size while others didn’t respond to the training at all.

Why?

It could be that some people just don’t respond to the particular type of training in the protocol used for the study.

But it could also be genetics. I’m going to explore the possibility of the latter.

 

With this article I’d like to get into how genes work and cover some new research on how genetics influence muscle growth.

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How genes work

Every person, and every cell within that person, has the same set of genes to work with.

Where things differ – between cells and between people – is in gene expression. Gene expression controls what proteins are created.

Proteins are the workers of the cell. Every function a cell performs – movement, engulfment, support, etc.- is carried out by the proteins present in that cell. Genes carry the information needed to create proteins. They’re like the blueprints. That means that each cell within the body has its own specific pattern of gene expression that ultimately dictates its function.

Which genes are expressed, and which aren’t is partly controlled at two levels: transcription and translation.

Transcription is the copying of the information a gene contains into a format that can be eventually turned into a protein. Different mechanisms within a cell can control what genes are transcribed and which are not.

Translation takes the product of transcription and turns it into protein. There are also different mechanisms within the cell in place to control what gets translated and what doesn’t.

All this boils down to a better understanding of what someone is saying when they talk about a person’s genetics.

When we talk about a person having the “genetics” to do something, or not do something, we’re really talking about differences in people’s ability to express certain genes.

Patterns in gene expression can be regulated in other ways beyond transcription and translation too, and in ways that can be passed down from your parents, but that’s a discussion that’s a little too sciencey for the scope of this article.

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What matters for lean muscle gains

When we talk about lean muscle gains, we’re largely talking about hypertrophy. That is, the increase of muscle size as a whole and the increase in size of its individual components.

Hypertrophy is stimulated in response to strength training and anaerobic training. Muscles respond by changing their cell biology to cope with the new demands being placed on them. How a muscle cell alters transcription and translation to initiate hypertrophy aren’t really well understood.

With new advents in technology, it is getting clearer and clearer… albeit slowly.

A recent study, led by Marcelo G. Pereira at the Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine in Italy, looked at the genes changes associated with functional muscle growth.

The researchers weren’t able to find a significant number of genes that were regulated in a similar manner in all the modes of muscle growth they looked at. But, they did find increases in mTOR signaling and ribosomal biogenesis.

mTOR is a master regulator of growth. It senses nutritional and environmental cues, integrates them together, and decides whether or not growth should be permitted.

Ribosomes are the little molecular machines responsible for translation (they make proteins from the products of transcription). Biogenesis means more ribosomes are being produced so more translation can happen.

What the results of Pereira’s work tell us is that muscle growth, or lack thereof, may be due to differences in a person’s ability to activate mTOR or the translational machinery required to make new proteins. All of which is necessary to cause muscle growth.

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What this means for you

As of right now, it means some people are lucky in that they seem to have been born with this above average ability to activate mTOR and initiate translation, while other have been giving the shaft.

Nothing we have at the moment can stimulate what we need in a organ or cell-specific way.

What can you do

If you’re one of the people whose genes seem to be working against you, don’t get too disheartened. It’s no reason to give up hope and resign yourself to your seemingly predetermined fate.

There are things you can do to overcome your genetic curses.

Figure out what works for you. Experiment with yourself. Scientists have a way of keeping things constant so they can better interpret their data. That means they don’t typically look into different training stimuli or protocols when assessing its effect on hypertrophy –  or the cellular signaling involved with hypertrophy.

So, try different types of training, different volumes, different intensities, and different frequencies. It’ll take some time, but eventually you’ll figure out what works best for you.

Conclusion

Genetics can put you at an advantage or disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean you should give up if you’re experiencing some adversity in getting the results you’re after.

Train smart and experimentally, make sure your nutrition is where it needs to be, and some different supplements will help to.

Get all these things in line and you will get to where you want to be eventually. It just may take a little more time for you if you have some genetic disadvantages compared to your friend who seems to respond quickly to any type of training.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great week. Contact me directly if you’d like to learn more, follow the blog, and follow Healthy Wheys on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.