Fathers who exercise likely to have smarter babies
Exercise changes the brains and sperm of male animals in ways that later affect the brains and thinking skills of their offspring, according to a fascinating new study involving mice.
The findings indicate that some of the brain benefits of physical activity may be passed along to children, even if a father does not begin to exercise until adulthood.
We already have plenty of scientific evidence showing that exercise is good for our brains, whether we are mice or people. Among other effects, physical activity can strengthen the connections between neurons in the hippocampus, a crucial part of the brain involved in memory and learning. Studies also indicate that exercise, like other aspects of lifestyle, can alter how genes work and those changes can get passed on to children. This process is known as epigenetics.
But it had not been clear whether structural changes in the brain caused by exercise might also have epigenetic effects that would result in meaningful changes in the brains of the next generation. To find out, researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Göttingen, Germany, and other institutions gathered a group of genetically identi- cal male mice. The mice all grew up sedentary.
But once they reached adulthood, half of them were moved to cages equipped with running wheels and other toys designed to stimulate their bodies and brains. After 10 weeks, scientists looked inside some of their brains and found that they had developed stronger neuronal connections. More interesting, when some of these active male mice mated with females that had not run, their pups were born with brains that showed stronger neuronal connections in the hippocampus.
Finally, the scientists delved into the makeup of the paternal sperm. The findings suggested that physical activity in one generation can have echoes in the brains and minds of the next, says André Fischer, a professor at the German Center and senior author of the study, which was published in Cell Reports.
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