Research — 03 May 2017

FIT fathers are not only reaping the benefits when it comes to their own physical and mental health, they may also be boosting the brains of their unborn offspring.bigstock_Father_Holding_His_Newborn_Bab_4538664

In a new study, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health found physically active male mice had sons that were better equipped to cope with fear and had lower anxiety levels than their couch potato counterparts.

While it’s clear babies are heavily influenced by their mothers’ lifestyle and environment, now scientists are shifting their attention to men.

The Florey has already shown that male mice who are stressed before conception can increase anxiety and depression-like behaviours in their offspring.

In their latest study, male mice that went to a four-week running bootcamp were mated with sedentary females.

Aspects of their offspring’s brain health was compared with rodent fathers who did no exercise and also had inactive mothers.

They found the sons of active mice were better at suppressing bad memories when they were younger and had lower anxiety levels when they were older.

The team, including Dr Terence Pang and Dr Annabel Short, also found a molecular pathway that may be responsible for passing the “inherited” benefits of exercise onto the offspring.

Professor Anthony Hannan said it was possible the benefits of exercise would be further increased if active mice mated with fit females.

By studying epigenetics — how genes interact with the environment — the Florey hopes to better understand how parents’ lifestyle influenced their children’s mental health.

“The best way to explain epigenetics is to imagine the genome is an orchestra, the instruments are the genes and the musicians are the epigenetics, and they interact creating the symphony of life,” Prof Hannan said.

By playing the instruments, the musicians exert control over them, switching them on and off in much the same way the environment can alter genes.

“It’s not just about the child’s genes or the woman’s health that’s important to their offspring, it’s potentially also the man’s health before conception as the information in the sperm may reflect the lifestyle of the father,” he said.

“This has huge public health implications; we seem to have epidemics of chronic high levels of stress in society, sedentary behaviours, lack of exercise and poor diets.”

The research was published in Translational Psychiatry.

This piece was originally published on ‘The Herald Sun’ 3 May, 2017.

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