Do Fitter Dads Have Smarter Offspring? New Study Explores the Topic

If you know that your personal exercise schedule could create smarter offspring, would you do more in the gym?

An interesting study published from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Göttingen, Germany explored the idea of physical activity in fathers and its potential relationship with brain function in offspring.

[Editor’s Note: This research was performed on mice, and the impact of the explored concept and its relationship to humans has yet to be studied.]

In their research, authors of this study analyzed how environmental enrichment (EE) in the forms of physical exercise and cognitive training impacted adult and offspring brain activity (hippocampal LTP). Previous research has suggested that environmental factors can play a role in gene activity (epigenetics) in both humans and mice.

Going into the study, researchers wanted to extend off of the findings from Arai et al.’s 2009 research, which demonstrated a positive relationship between juvenile mice and the use of EE (starting at 2-months of age) in hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP) in their offspring. LTP is a demonstration of synaptic strength following high-frequency stimuli (exercise, environmental factors, and so forth). In layman’s terms, LTP is one way to assess the strength between synapses in the area of the brain that account for learning and memory, which in this case were related to and strengthened with EE. Aka the strength of this relationship for this context relates to long-term enhanced learning and memory abilities in adult mice and their offspring.

In Arai’s 2009 study, they looked at the relationship between EE and hippocampal LTP at an early onset in juvenile mice and their offspring, but Benito et al. wanted to take this a step further.

To differentiate their research, mice weren’t subjected to EE until they were in the adult stages of their lives. Thus, questioning if EE is useful even for those who’s brains have matured past the stages of juvenile points of growth. Researchers subjected the experimental mice to 10-weeks in cages with wheels, games, and other cognitive training stimuli, while the other group lived a sedentary life. After the 10-week period of EE, the mice (both EE and sedentary groups) mated with sedentary female mice.

Before mating, researchers recorded two levels of microRNAs (inner workings of genes) that have been previously related to stronger neurological connections following exercise. They recorded levels from the brain and sperm pre/post-mating of both the experimental and sedentary mice. After the pups were born, researchers found that those born to active fathers (even though the mother was sedentary) had enhanced hippocampal LTP compared to the sedentary group.

These findings suggest that the epigenetics (gene change caused by modification) of EE in adulthood could have some relationship to an offspring’s hippocampal LTP (enhanced ability to learn/memorize) as they grow up. Although, these findings should be taken with a grain of salt because this is one of the first studies of its kind, and it was performed on mice, not humans.

Also, worth noting, the elevated levels of microRNAs were similar to sedentary mice when the pups didn’t partake in physical activity. Those born to active fathers found enhanced levels of hippocampal LTP when exercise was induced, aka to reap the enhanced brain functioning, don’t stop moving. 

On a positive note, researchers plan to carry out a similar research concept on humans in the relatively near future, so we’re excited to see if the relationship carries over for human adults and offspring.

Feature image from @elleryphotos Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.