Dad’s exercise before conception can help child’s lifelong health

A new study from the Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Center and Ohio State found that dads who exercised before conception had a lifelong impact on the health of their children.

Researchers found paternal exercise has a significant impact on the metabolic health, including improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight and a decreased fat mass, of their offspring well into adulthood.

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“When the males exercised, the offspring had improved metabolic health and that hadn’t really been shown in the past,” Dr. Laurie Goodyear, lead author of the study, said to Global News via Skype. She’s a senior investigator at the Joslin Diabetes Center and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“One of the really important things about this study is the effects of the father were found in mice when they were a year old, which is really comparable to middle age (in humans),” Goodyear said.

“What you do now could affect your children in 50 years from now, when they’re 50 years of age.”

Researchers fed the male mice either a normal diet or a high-fat diet 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.

Offspring from the mice who exercised had improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight and a decreased fat mass.

“If we try to translate to humans, which we can’t do completely but we can certainly think about it; say the dad isn’t the healthiest eater, but if he’s still exercising, he’ll probably have beneficial effects to his children.”

“I’m not saying that, ‘Yeah, you should go ahead and eat poorly,’ but it just shows that exercise is a really important factor for the health of the offspring.”

Goodyear said more research needs to be done to determine what kind of exercise is beneficial and for how long before conception.

“Can you just go out and do exercise just the day before you conceive? Or do you need to train for two years to be really healthy?” she said. “High-intensity exercise or moderate exercise?”

Shifting the responsibility 

Goodyear said researchers have already done a fair amount of work in the area of maternal exercise, which has shown benefits in kids. The purpose of this study was to determine whether similar results could be shown on the paternal side.

“The research shows it’s not just about the mom and what the mom does. It’s what the dad is doing prior to conception,” Goodyear said.

At the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine (PCRM) in Vancouver, Dr. Caitlin Dunne said this study provides significant new information for couples trying to conceive.

“Men’s sperm health is really important, but it’s probably been under recognized to date,” Dunne said.

“This is one of the first studies that’s shown that the dad, through the sperm DNA, can have effects on the offspring that have a meaningful difference.”

Jason Lee, owner of Black Tusk in Edmonton, says he was motivated to exercise when he and his wife were trying to conceive.

Motivation to exercise

Jason Lee and his wife Anne opened Black Tusk, a CrossFit gym in Edmonton, two days before his daughter was born in October 2016. He was motivated to exercise when he and his wife were trying to conceive.

“I always followed athletes growing up, especially Alexander Ovechkin. There’s this story about his parents being previous Olympians. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool, Olympians breeding this high caliber hockey player.’ I thought, ‘There’s got to be something to it,’” Lee said.

Although he didn’t know of any scientific evidence that his physical activity would directly impact his baby, Lee said he and his wife made an effort to exercise consistently while trying to have a baby.

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