Future fathers’ exercise may improve wellbeing of children

Research Summary
Tugba Colak-Champollion
Contributing writer for Baby Sleep Study

There is a lot of emphasis on maternal diet and fitness for the health of babies. But did you know that paternal diet and fitness are also important? 

Scientific studies have linked poor paternal diet to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes in both female and male children. This risk persists into adulthood. However, the harmful effect of a father’s poor diet can be reduced if he exercises regularly. 

A research study conducted by Kristen Stanford and colleagues has shed light on how this works.  The researchers divided male mice into two initial groups. The first group was fed a normal diet and the second group was given high fat food.  Half of the mice in each group were given the opportunity to exercise. They were given running wheels and ended up running an impressive distance of 6 km a day per mouse on average.  After 3 weeks, the male mice were allowed to mate with females which were fed a normal diet. 

The researchers then studied the offspring of these male mice.  Fathers that had been put on a high fat diet, without exercise, had offspring that were less healthy. For example, the offspring had more body fat and increased insulin resistance.  In human terms, they were essentially prediabetics at about 58 years old.  But none of this happened when fathers had exercised. How could this be?

To answer this question, the researchers took a close look at the fathers’ sperm.  It turned out that when the fathers ate a high fat diet, this had an impact on their sperm. The composition of small RNAs was different.  These small RNAs are molecules required for protein synthesis and they may be the cause for the changes in the offspring metabolism.  Exercise prevented high fat diet from affecting the small RNA composition.

It is not clear yet whether these results can be translated to humans.  But in any case, it may be a good idea for men to get some exercise when they plan to have children. If nothing else, it’ll be helpful for chasing their toddlers around the house.