Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) risk can be lowered with exercise. NAFLD is becoming the most common form of liver disease in the Western world as rates of obesity continue to rise. NAFLD has long been associated with diabetes and obesity and there are currently no approved treatment methods for this disease. For this reason, it’s important to prevent NAFLD as best as possible which can be done by effectively managing diabetes and your body weight.
Weight loss is a known tactic to combat both obesity and diabetes. Weight loss if often recommended for NAFLD patients as a means to slow down disease progression. Aerobic and resistance exercises are effective for reducing liver fat and visceral fat. What is unclear is how much of exercise is required to start improving NAFLD.
The researchers observed the effects of exercise on NAFLD in overweight and sedentary people. The participants in this placebo-controlled clinical trial were randomly assigned to one of the four separate groups: low-to-moderate intensity, high-volume aerobic exercise (LO:HI); high-intensity, low-volume aerobic exercise (HI:LO); low-to-moderate intensity, low-volume aerobic exercise (LO:LO); and placebo (PLA) for an eight-week period.
All the exercise groups saw improvements in liver fat with reductions of 18 to 29 percent, compared to the placebo group who saw liver fat increase of 14 percent.
Lead investigator Dr. Nathan Johnson explained, “The results from our study show that all exercise doses, irrespective of volume or intensity, were efficacious in reducing liver fat and visceral fat by an amount that was clinically significant, in previously inactive, overweight, or obese adults compared with placebo. These changes were observed without clinically significant weight loss.”
In an editorial to the Journal of Hepatology, Rohit Loomba observed that, “There is good quality evidence to support that regular exercise is beneficial in reducing the risk of NAFLD. In addition, both aerobic and resistance training regimens are equally effective in reducing liver fat in individuals with NAFLD even in the absence of weight loss. There are, however, no data to support that exercise alone without weight loss can improve or reverse NASH [nonalcoholic steatohepatitis]. There is preliminary evidence that vigorous exercise may be associated with a decreased risk of having NASH. The individual and joint effect of dose and intensity of exercise and their association with improvement in liver fat and other histologic features that are associated with NASH is a key research priority. In our expert opinion, a more stringent exercise-regimen than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends, coupled with dietary interventions, may be needed to induce improvement in liver histologic features associated with NASH.”
This study, like many others, reaffirms the importance of maintaining a healthy weight through exercise as a means of reducing disease.