Women who exercise while pregnant may produce children who are less likely to pile on the pounds, even when gorging on a high-fat diet, a study in mice at Washington State University has found.


It has previously been shown that the children of obese women who exercise while pregnant are less likely to gain weight but this study is the first to show that the same is true for women who aren’t overweight.

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“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 lead researcher Jun Seok Son. “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.”

The team compared the offspring of mice that performed 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every morning during pregnancy to more sedentary mice.

They found that from birth the offspring of the exercising mice had larger amounts of proteins associated with brown fat tissue – a type of ‘good fat’ tissue that converts fat and sugar into heat to help maintain body temperature in cold climates. The mice born to exercising mothers also had higher body temperatures indicating that their brown fat tissue was more efficient.

The team then fed both sets of mice a high-fat diet for eight weeks. They found that the mice with exercising mothers gained less weight and showed fewer symptoms of diseases such as diabetes and fatty liver disease.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.