New Medical Study on Dads Who Exercise

Dear Dads-to-Be:

What’s in your genes? Things like hair color, eye color, bone structure and height are just a few of the million biological characteristics you pass down to your children through heredity. The gender of your future children also lies within your genes. One thing that might surprise you to learn is that through your genes, you also have the ability to help your future children avoid obesity and diabetes just by doing something simple for a few months before you decide to have children – exercise!

Exercise can be moderate or intense: the choice is yours! But the point is to make a commitment to be physically active right before the mother-to-be becomes pregnant. Things like taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator, enjoying brisk walks at a steady pace around the neighborhood, walking dogs, dancing informally and doing simple body stretches at the office or at home are all beneficial. Every physical thing you do before the mother’s pregnancy will result in your future children having better metabolism, controlled weight, less fat mass and a host of other benefits related to improved metabolic health.

This is the groundbreaking discovery made recently and published in Diabetes Journal.

Medical Research on Metabolic Health

Generally speaking, maternal health during a woman’s pregnancy is the most important thing that is reviewed when discussing the health of a baby. Things like whether a pregnant mother drank alcohol, consumed drugs or had medical diseases all play strong roles in determining the health of the baby.

Two groups recently changed the focus to paternal health before a woman becomes pregnant. Medical researchers from the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University worked with a team from the Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and published a medical study. The study made an important conclusion – if fathers exercise for at least one to six months before the mother becomes pregnant, their children will reap lifelong benefits of metabolic health.

The Mayo Clinic defines metabolism as a complex biochemical process “by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy.” [Endnote 1] Metabolic health includes a person’s food choices, physical and resting activities, body composition and other characteristics to help determine obesity or the possibility of having diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. Other essential components of metabolic health involve the body’s regulation of glucose (blood sugar), as well as the body’s ability to tolerate (process) glucose. (Glucose intolerance results in higher glucose levels and may lead to diabetes.)

Medical Study and Conclusions

In December 2018, Dr. Kristin I. Stanford, assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at the Wexner Medical Center, was the lead of 12 researchers who published the aforementioned study in Diabetes Journal. As part of the study, Dr. Stanford and her colleagues tested two groups of male mice by giving them high-fat diets and keeping one group sedentary while the other group was allowed to exercise on a wheel.

Thereafter, the researchers tested the baby mice offspring of both sets of male mice. The conclusion of seeing the baby mice from the sedentary group born with impaired glucose tolerance levels was not surprising. The shock came when they tested the baby mice from the group of mice that exercised. The researchers learned that, “paternal exercise suppresse[d] the effects of … [the] high-fat diet on [the baby mice], reversing the observed impairment in glucose tolerance.” [Endnote 2]

In other words, despite the fact that both groups of male mice ate high-fat diets, the presence of even a nominal amount of exercise canceled out the negative effects of the poor diet, resulting in improvements in metabolic health of their baby mice offspring.

According to Dr. Stanford, improved metabolic health offers lifelong benefits including “lower body weight, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased fat mass.” [Endnote 3]

Comparing Mice to Men

Dr. Stanford is the first to admit that a medical study on mice is not exactly like a study that is done on men. In fact, she notes a similar study done on men would have been tricky, as the ratios would be vastly different. In the medical study done using mice, Dr. Stanford tested male mice for three weeks before the female mice became pregnant. She also tested the baby mice offspring of both sets of male mice for a period of one year to determine their metabolic health.

If the study had been done on humans, it is believed the period to test fathers-to-be before a woman becomes pregnant would have been up to six months beforehand, while the period to test the children offspring would likely have been 45 to 55 years, therefore making a comparable study on humans time-consuming and complex to administer.

Despite the fact that the study involved mice and the ratios are not quite the same, Dr. Stanford believes there was enough compelling medical evidence from the study to apply the findings to men.

Bottom Line

The results of this published study on mice offer clear indicators that “paternal intervention affects offspring,” says Dr. Stanford. Dads-to-be who exercise before a woman becomes pregnant are intervening in the metabolic health of their offspring in positive ways, lowering the chance that the children will have an unhealthy body mass index, glucose intolerance or other similar metabolic health problems.

When fathers exercise before the mothers become pregnant, they are “providing a protective effect, an advantage. [All physical activities mean a] child is less likely to become obese,” says Dr. Stanford. In other words, dads-to-be who plan to have children should exercise for a few months before the mother becomes pregnant. It will help your future children!