We all know that exercise can make us stronger, and now we know dad's gym habit might give baby's brain a boost, too, according to researchers.
A new animal study published the journal Cell Reports found physical activity can have profound effects on the brain and sperm make-up of mice that's passed onto their offspring. In particular, researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease discovered that, after 10 weeks, mice who exercised—that is, ran on wheels and played with toys meant to stimulate their brains and bodies—had stronger neuronal connections in the hippocampus part of the brain than mice who were sedentary. Not only that, they also learned that those active mice who mated, some with females who were not active, had pups who had stronger connections between neurons in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, than pups born to their sedentary counterparts.
And, it turned out, the pups born to active dads learned faster and had better memories than their inactive counterparts, the study's findings show. In other words: Male mice who exercise prior to mating can actually make smarter babies.
That's because physical activity can lead to a rise in microRNA levels in the brains and sperm of mice who ran on wheels, according to the study. Senior study author André Fischer, a professor at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, tells The New York Times, "We believe that the increased microRNA levels mediate mild changes in brain development that are beneficial."
However, the German researchers found that offspring who weren't active didn't breed babies with the same strong neuronal connections. That means physical activity may boost the brain power of dad and his pup, but unless his little one runs as an adult, his own exercising does nothing for his grandpups.
Still, the Cell Reports study gives mamas and dads further insight into how staying active can have long-term benefits beyond their own bodies. The researchers do plan on replicating this study in humans to see if similar benefits exercise, according to The New York Times.
Of course, not every dad can exercise—and understandably so. We all have different abilities and opportunities to stay active. But there are other ways you can help your baby's brain development. There's singing, baby talk, reading, or, as they grow, supporting their inevitable dinosaur obsession.
Even though working out has a ton of benefits, it's not the only way to set your child up for success. So while a quick run on the treadmill may have a big impact, the way you interact with your little one does too. Leg day is great and all, but a day with the family is probably even better.