When it comes to pregnancy, there’s a lot of focus on the health of the mother-to-be, and rightfully so. After all, she is nurturing an entire human being into existence—she deserves that peanut butter and banana sandwich she’s craving at 3 in the morning, dammit.
But growing a healthy baby starts long before sperm meets egg—and it’s not just about how fit or healthy the woman is either. In a recent study published in the journal Cell Reports involving mice, researchers in Germany found that the physical and mental benefits male mice gleaned from exercise can be passed down to their tiny mice offspring too.
Yes, this research focused on animals, but hear me out. We already know that exercise is good for us—both for our bodies and our brains—whether we’ve got two legs or four. This study, however, focused on whether a future dad’s exercise habits could help produce smarter babies, especially considering researchers already know that genes from the father are pretty important in development. (A 2013 study, for example, found that, at least in animals, a father’s genes are predominate in the placenta, the organ that helps nourish the baby and connects it to mom.)
The fact that the subjects were tiny and furry is almost moot when you’re considering all the ways you can get your partner involved in the (healthy) baby-making process.
In an experiment involving genetically identical mice, the study’s authors found that the group that lived an active life—that is, their cages were filled with running wheels and toys to stimulate their brains—had developed stronger connections between neurons, compared to the mice that laid around all day, and performed better on cognitive tests. They found similar results in their offspring as well, despite the fact that none of the young ran, and confirmed through tests that because the fathers’ lifestyle had changed, so had their sperm.
Although it’s yet to be determined whether these results translate to humans, André Fischer, a professor at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and senior author of the study, told the New York Times that he personally believed that “exercise is probably much more important” than being mentally engaged, at least when it comes to altering gene expression and potentially impacting one’s children.
Either way, an important takeaway from this research is that the role males play in helping to create a healthy little one is much more complex than simply supplying the little swimmer that fertilizes the egg. In fact, researchers are beginning to pay more attention to the way human dad’s health affects his child prior to conception. For example, a recent paper in the medical journal The Lancet touched on how a father’s diet can affect his kid’s genetic makeup.
Though this field of research is still pretty limited, at least now you have the perfect excuse to get your guy off the couch to go to the gym with you. Not only is working out good for his health, but it’s also important for the physical and mental well-being of future Junior as well—even if making babies is a long ways down the road.