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Study says working on your 'dad bod' before fatherhood can help your future kids' health

Science is always telling women what they should and shouldn't eat and drink and what level of activity they should aspire to before and during pregnancy to assure a healthy child.

A study published Monday in Diabetes is saying that dads, too, could help prevent diseases such as diabetes and obesity before the child is born, and it begins with exercise.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say that fathers who exercise before a child is conceived may result in life-long health effects including:

  • lower body weight
  • increased insulin sensitivity, which can reduce the risk of diseases, including diabetes. 
  • decreased fat mass

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The study found that dads didn't need to hit the gym daily years before they were ready to have a child. Kristin Stanford, study leader and assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told All the Moms

"What I think is exciting is that if (dads) exercise even three to four weeks prior to conceiving a child, that could have long-term health effects on your child, leading to obesity and diabetes prevention." 

Of mice and men 

Researchers reached their conclusions by studying male mice on both normal and high-fat diets.

Stanford said mice have served as good markers for humans in previous epigenetic studies, most notably the Dutch Famine study that looked at the impact of maternal starvation on offspring, which successfully used and replicated results using mice models. 

That study also looked at diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

"It allows us to hypothesize we would see the same results with a paternal exercise that used a mouse model," Stanford said.

To measure lifelong health benefits for humans, researchers measured the health of the mice born until they reached adulthood a year later.

What they learned...

  • Mice that exercised freely had offspring with better metabolic health.
  • The sedentary male mouse with the high-fat diet passed along the traits of poor metabolic health, which is associated with obesity and diseases and higher glucose intolerance, which is a risk factor for diabetes. 

Fortunately, exercise can cancel out the consequences of a father's poor diet, Stanford said. 

The mice were given a high-fat diet for three weeks and some were either kept sedentary or were exercised. The offspring of those whose father's exercised, according to later genetic testing, stayed healthier despite dad's high-fat chow.

Planning on some progeny, dads? Reimagine your "dad bod" as an important introduction to being a father before you've actually become one. 

Next, researchers will look at how and why genetic changes occur and how the information can be used to prevent obesity and diabetes. 

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