Mouse study shows exercising during pregnancy improves heart health of future generations

Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – Exercising during pregnancy doesn’t just benefit moms – it may also give their babies a head start on their heart health after birth, according to a study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

In a mouse study, researchers found offspring had better heart health after birth when their mothers exercised throughout pregnancy. The study also found exercise supersedes the heart health risks posed by a high-fat diet but only in female offspring and not males. The study was published Monday in Molecular Metabolism.

“Until now, the effects of maternal exercise on offspring heart health have not been thoroughly investigated. Our findings provide insight on ways to prevent transmission of cardiovascular diseases to future generations,” said Kristin Stanford, PhD, who led the study. She is a researcher in the Department of Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and associate director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute.

Researchers fed female mice a normal diet or high-fat diet before pregnancy and until weaning of offspring. The adult mice were subdivided into two groups: non-active or active. The offspring were then kept in a sedentary state and fed a regular diet until they were 24 weeks of age, which is about mid 30s for a human. Results showed reduced ejection fraction, which is how well the heart pumps blood, in offspring of mothers who ate a high-fat diet instead of a normal diet. Female offspring of mothers who ate a high-fat diet and exercised did not have reduced ejection fraction at eight, 12 and 24 weeks of age. Researchers are exploring why exercise negates the effects of a poor diet only in female offspring and not males.

“Rates of obesity continue to rise in the United States, and it’s important to find ways to combat that increase. Our research shows that exercise or movement during pregnancy is good for mothers and their offspring. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise; the key is to be active,” Stanford said.

In previous studies led by Stanford, researchers found maternal and paternal exercise improved metabolic health of offspring and moderate exercise during pregnancy increases a compound in breast milk that reduces a baby’s lifelong risk of serious health issues such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The next step in this research is determining if changes in the gut microbiome are tied in with how maternal exercise negates the effects of offspring heart health. That research is part of a $4.3 million grant from the American Heart Association.

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