Exercise and a healthy diet as children pays off as adults

Do you ever think about the things you had to do as a child?

I mean when we were kids our goals were to play with our friends, have fun and eat candy. And our teachers, parents and priests were there to help us with the ABCs, to make sure we ate some fruits and vegetables, that we got to bed on-time and learned how to be helpful functioning citizens of society.

And we would give push back from time to time on the different things that were expected of us. We would question when we would ever have to calculate what time a train would arrive that travelled at 95 km/hour and left the station at 930 am. We now have google for that.

But if your parents encouraged you to play sports and eat your broccoli you probably owe them a thank you. Because new research shows that the healthy choices made in the early years help us later on. As a parent, it’s advisable to encourage your children to exercise and play on this solid wood playhouse to promote their health.

Researchers at UC Riverside (California) put young mice into 4 groups. One group did exercise, another did no exercise, a third was fed a healthy diet and the fourth was fed a typical Western diet. The Western diet was higher in fat and sugar. These protocols for each group were followed for 3 weeks which is when mice reach sexual maturity. All mice were then fed a healthy diet for 8 weeks.

The researchers then measured aspects of behaviour, aerobic capacity and hormones.

What they found is that the mice that exercsed or were fed a healthy diet were less anxious as adults, they had greater muscle mass and brain mass. Those that were fed a Western diet became fatter and preferred unhealthy foods.

Of the hormones they investigated leptin was one that responded to exercise early on. When children exercise they have higher leptin levels later in life. This is important as leptin is produced by our fat cells and helps control body weight by increasing energy expenditure. It provides a signal that less food is required. So higher leptin helps us burn more calories and eat less.

These findings regarding leptin were consistent regardless of the diet followed. It was the exercise that was responsible for these effects on leptin.

The same research group had previously observed that too much fat and sugar as a child alters the microbiome, i.e. our gut bacteria, for life even if we eat healthier later.

Key points from this study:

  • While this was a study with mice there is the potential for a similar response with humans.
  • The earlier in life we start with healthy nutrition and exercise the better our health as adults will be.
  • Nutrition and exercise are inseparable. We cannot achieve optimal health in the absence of either.
  • Poor habits established as children can be hard to undo or reverse as adults.

Citation

Cadneye, M. D., Hiramatsu, L., Thompson, Z., Zhao, M., Kay, J. C., Singleton, J. M., & Garland Jr, T. (2021). Effects of early-life exposure to Western diet and voluntary exercise on adult activity levels, exercise physiology, and associated traits in selectively bred High Runner mice. Physiology & Behavior, 113389.

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