Besides promoting long-lasting health, regular exercise in childhood can also counteract negative health effects such as diabetes inherited by father's obesity, researchers say.
The study found that children of fathers with a high-fat diet or who are obese are more likely to have low insulin sensitivity.
People with low insulin sensitivity do not respond to insulin resulting in an increase in blood sugars levels, leading to the development of Type-2 diabetes.
Exercising early in life reverses the negative effect of low insulin sensitivity in adulthood for children and can therefore prevent the risk of diabetes.
"Obesity due to a high-fat diet in the father can have a negative effect on the metabolism of their offspring," said lead author Filippe Falcao-Tebas, from Monash University in Australia.
"The study showed that exercise only in early life of the offspring can have long-lasting beneficial effects on their health by normalising their muscle insulin sensitivity in adulthood," Falcao-Tebas added.
For the study, published in the Journal of Physiology, the team involved breeding obese male rats with healthy female rats. Their offspring underwent exercise training for only four weeks after weaning.
They were then assessed as adults in terms of responsiveness to glucose and insulin, skeletal muscle function and pancreas structure.
The findings showed that the offspring of obese fathers had reduced whole body and skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin secretion.
However, early life exercise did not have any positive effects on their pancreas.
Further work needs to be carried out including understanding what genes are switched on and off to determine the relationship between paternal diet and offspring exercise, as well as how exercise and paternal diet can affect the offspring's physiology.
They also plan to examine if similar effects occur in larger mammals that have developmental rates more similar to humans, the researchers noted.