Exercise, which has a multitude of health benefits from regulating high blood pressure to preventing Alzheimer's, has now been shown to inhibit obesity in offspring. A new study conducted on mice found that exercising during pregnancy prevented obesity in infants regardless of diet.
"Based on our findings, we recommend that women--whether or not they are obese or have diabetes--exercise regularly during pregnancy because it benefits their children's metabolic health," said Jun Seok Son, a doctoral student at the Washington State University who conducted the study.
Although this study has yet to be conducted on humans, other research has shown that exercise is beneficial to pregnant females and their young. In the past, exercise by obese females has been proven to benefit offspring, yet the new study also proved that the same is true for non-obese females.
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Researchers evaluated mice that were subjected to 60 minutes of moderate exercise every morning during pregnancy. The offspring born to mice that didn't exercise were used as a control group. The findings demonstrated that the offspring of the mice that exercised had higher levels of proteins linked to brown adipose tissue, which stores energy as fat, compared to the control group during weaning. Adipose tissue, which turns fat and sugar into heat, is necessary for insulation. The exercise group's offspring were also shown to have higher body temperatures, indicating their brown adipose tissue was more efficient.
After weaning, researchers put the offspring on a high-fat diet for eight weeks. The young of females that had exercised were less prone to weight gain and also exhibited fewer symptoms of metabolic diseases. The study suggests that exercise during pregnancy makes offspring less likely to gain weight and that lack of exercise results in higher risks of weight gain and related diseases.
"Our data suggest that the lack of exercise in healthy women during pregnancy can predispose their children to obesity and associated metabolic diseases partially through impairing thermogenic function," said Son.
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According to the World Health Organization, the number of overweight or obese infants and young children, ages 0 to 5 years, increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. The majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries. At the current rate, the number of overweight or obese infants and young children globally will increase to 70 million by 2025.
Obesity in childhood is linked to a wide array of health complications and an increased risk of premature onset of illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. Aside from exercise, experts advise that breastfeeding from birth to 6 months of age helps prevent infants from becoming overweight or obese.