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When Dad’s Exercise, Children See Improved Glucose Metabolism, Even As Adults

Men who exercise have off-spring that have improved glucose metabolism, according to new research from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The study found that paternal exercise had a significant impact on the metabolic health of offspring well into their adulthood.

Recent studies have linked the development of type 2 diabetes and impaired metabolic health to the parents’ poor diet, and scientists say there is increasing evidence that fathers play an important role in obesity and metabolic programming of their offspring.

That prompted Dr. Kristin Stanford, a physiology and cell biology researcher with The Ohio State University College of Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center, and her team to investigate how a father’s exercise regimen would affect his offspring’s metabolic health.

How Was The Study Conducted?
Using a mouse model, researchers fed 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.

The researchers report that adult offspring from mice who exercised had improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight, and a decreased fat mass.

“Here’s what’s really interesting,” says Standford, “offspring from the dads fed a high-fat diet fared worse, so they were more glucose intolerant. But exercise negated that effect.”

She points out that when the dad exercised, even on a high-fat diet, the researchers saw improved metabolic health in their adult offspring.

Stanford’s team also found that exercise caused changes in the genetic expression of the father’s sperm that suppress poor dietary effects and transfer to the offspring.

“We saw a strong change in their small-RNA profile,” Stanford says, “Now we want to see exactly which small-RNAs are responsible for these metabolic improvements, where it’s happening in the offspring and why,” she says.

What About Mom?
Previous studies from this group have shown that when mouse mothers exercise, their offspring also have beneficial effects of metabolism.

Based on the studies, scientists are determining if both parents exercise, it has an even greater effect to improve metabolism and overall health of offspring. If this model translates to humans, researchers say this would be hugely important for the health of the next generation.

The researchers believe the results support the hypothesis that small RNAs could help transmit parental environmental information to the next generation.

“There’s potential for this to translate to humans. We know that in adult men obesity impairs testosterone levels, sperm number, and motility, and it decreases the number of live births,” Stanford says.

“If we ask someone who’s getting ready to have a child to exercise moderately, even for a month before conception, that could have a strong effect on the health of their sperm and the long-term metabolic health of their children.”

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported the research.

The study has been published in the journal Diabetes.

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