They say that you can’t pick your parents—including their behaviors and habits, not just the genes.
Procreation and survival have been the common thread throughout human history, so it is natural that we apply what we know now to optimize these most basic elements of life.
In considering fertility and fetal development, the focus is most often on the mother for obvious reasons. Trying to optimize the mother’s health and environment of the uterus is important as this is our first home, and her behavior and lifestyle during pregnancy are key drivers for brain development. From birth to around age two, from a neurodevelopmental standpoint, the cultural environment and the relationship to the mother are key in how the brain decides to wire itself.
But the role of the father is less often discussed in the fertility conversation, beyond sperm count and motility. Research by Sergio Pecorelli has shown that in the 90-104 days pre-conception—referred to as the zero trimester—the man’s health-related activities can affect the genes that are expressed, and 24 weeks of exercising for 150 minutes a week impacts genes that influence schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.
While that news certainly provides incentive for exercise, I think it can also be a diving board from which we consider how basic nutrition and stress management may also make a difference in sperm quality. In addition to the disease aspect, research also shows there are links to other aspects of self, including self-control, perseverance, educational attainment, and longevity, that are also impacted by the father’s state of health.
When we look at health and wellness across the lifespan, we often are considering successful aging. But, if we are to broaden our lens in viewing health optimization and lifespan, we can apply some of this knowledge to the earliest phase of life as well. The brain’s primary role is to predict and protect, yet if we can use it to become predictive and protective of our genetic expression, that is the ultimate in proactive health action.
This is not about putting additional pressure on prospective parents, rather looking at the agency that you have in maximizing your genetic potential. The pre-conception period can be a time when you fully put yourself in the center of all experiences, looking at how your health behaviours can contribute to your ‘reproductive fitness’, while considering a more 360o wellness model where we can look at other aspects that may be contributing factors.
In considering that, these are some basic tips for men to improve your own environment for reproduction:
1. Move often
As mentioned above, there is research-backed evidence for exercise. Pick what you enjoy and what works for your level of fitness.
2. Eat well
Even basic nutritional improvements are an actionable way to create better health.
3. Address any unhealthy habits
Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are always good health decisions.
4. Embrace the process
Creating healthy habits for yourself is a process itself. Fertility is also a process for many couples, so being able to apply that approach to both can be beneficial in managing the ups and downs.
It is refreshingly optimistic to take this vantage point as it democratizes the outcomes for everyone. There are a lot of considerations and stressors that come with approaching parenthood, whether it be the process of fertility, the financial aspects, or the responsibility, yet having the multi-pronged approach to your own health is going to be key to your own adaptability in these circumstances.
The practices you build in this pre-conception period also creates a scaffolding for better bonding. Using this time in the zero trimester to build better health habits sets you up for, not only a better life for yourself, but equips you with the capacity for the growth and resilience that parenting requires. Rather than making it about whether your kid goes to the fanciest school, you can look at things that are more within your immediate control in terms of making it an empowering process that develops your own anti-fragility and manages your own anxiety—and it is important and reassuring to note that managing even that aspect of the process can help you to have a healthy child.
Where men may have previously wondered about our contribution to the earliest phases of life, we have more influence than we may have thought, and our efforts in improving our own physical and mental landscape can be very impactful in optimizing the potential of future offspring. The better your baseline of health, the better you are able to perform at anything, and I am here to help with that.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.