As it turns out, the zillion walks you’ve taken over the pandemic period are good for more than just you. New research from the University of Virginia Health System found that maternal exercise during pregnancy may reduce the child’s risk of developing metabolic disease later in life.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, looked at the effects of exercise on pregnant lab mice. The results showed an increase in exercise in obese pregnant mice could prevent the transmission of some metabolic diseases.

photo: via Pexels

While this study didn’t include human mothers or their children, the researchers believe the exercise-related reduction in metabolic diseases (such as diabetes) in lab mice may extend to people. Zhen Yan, PhD, a top exercise expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and study researcher said, “Most of the chronic diseases that we talk about today are known to have a fetal origin. This is to say that the parents’ poor health conditions prior to and during pregnancy have negative consequences to the child, potentially through chemical modification of the genes.”

Yan continued, “We were inspired by our previous mouse research implicating that regular aerobic exercise for an obese mother before and during pregnancy can protect the child from early onset of diabetes. In this study, we asked the questions, what if an obese mother exercises only during pregnancy, and what if the father is obese?”

The researchers fed some of the mice (both mothers and fathers) in their study a high-fat/high-calorie diet prior to mating. The rest of the mice were fed more nutritious mouse fare. Some of the high-fat/high-calorie diet pregnant mother mice had access to a running wheel—and some didn’t.

Children born to the obese sedentary mother and father mice were more likely to develop high blood sugar or other metabolic issues as adults. Of the results, Yan said, “The take-home message is that it is not too late to start to exercise if a mother finds herself pregnant. Regular exercise will not only benefit the pregnancy and labor but also the health of the baby for the long run.”

The researcher continued, “This is more exciting evidence that regular exercise is probably the most promising intervention that will help us deter the pandemic of chronic diseases in the aging world, as it can disrupt the vicious cycle of parents-to-child transmission of diseases.”

—Erica Loop



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