Cases of liver cirrhosis are increasing, which is due to the obesity epidemic we are facing in North America. However, according to new research presented at Digestive Disease Week 2019, physical activity, including walking and muscle-strengthening activities, have been linked with significantly reduced risk of cirrhosis-related death.
There are currently no guidelines for the optimal type of exercise for the prevention of cirrhosis-related mortality, but researchers hope these new findings can help to provide specific recommendations for patients who are at risk of liver cirrhosis and its complications.
Lead researcher on the study Tracey Simon, MD, spoke about the findings, “The benefit of exercise is not a new concept, but the impact of exercise on mortality from cirrhosis and liver cancer has not yet been explored on this scale. Our findings show that both walking and strength training contribute to substantial reductions in risk of cirrhosis-related death, which is significant because we know very little about modifiable risk factors.”
No Liver Disease at Baseline
The study involved following 68,449 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 48,748 from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, all who showed no known liver disease at baseline. Participants were told to provide data on physical activity, including intensity and type every two years from 1986 to 2012. This allowed researchers to examine the association between cirrhosis-related death and physical activity.
Through the results, researchers found that adults who had the highest amount of weekly walking activity had a 73 percent lower risk for cirrhosis-related death than those who reported a lower amount of walking. Further risk was recorded with combined exercises of walking and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Before this study, there had been limited research that could assess physical activity and its link to chronic liver disease. The previous research had only looked at liver cirrhosis at one point in time, or with a very short follow up period. This new study is the first in a large U.S. population to include detailed measurements of physical activity over such a prolonged period. This allowed researchers to more precisely estimate the relationship between physical activity and liver related outcomes.
Speaking about the study, Dr. Simon said, “In the U.S., mortality due to cirrhosis is increasing dramatically, with rates expected to triple by the year 2030. In the face of this alarming trend, information on modifiable risk factors that might prevent liver disease is needed. Our findings support further research to define the optimal type and intensity of physical activity to prevent adverse outcomes in patients at risk for cirrhosis.”