Fathers who ex­er­cise likely to have smarter ba­bies

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES TRENDS - Gretchen Reynolds

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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BET­TER THINK­ING SKILLS

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