Most parents know that the diet and exercise habits of a pregnant woman impacts the health of her baby, but little is known about how a father’s health choices are passed to his children. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that lifestyle practices of fathers prior to conception may have a major impact on the lifelong health of their children.
“Even a month or so of moderate exercise before conception can have major benefits to his children’s metabolic health,” said Kristin Stanford, PhD, an assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who led the study. “Those benefits include lower body weight, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased fat mass.”
Researchers studied groups of male mice on both normal and high-fat diets, and they found that those who exercised freely had offspring with better metabolic health. The sedentary male mice fed a high-fat diet passed along traits of poor metabolic health and higher glucose intolerance.
“However, exercise actually reversed that effect,” Stanford said. “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.”
Future research will examine why and how these genetic changes happen and how that information can be used to prevent diseases such as diabetes and obesity. For now, experts say staying active is a simple step dads-to-be can take for the health of their future children.