Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects almost 30% of the global population, and there is no known drug therapy or cure. While patients with NAFLD are advised to lose weight, it can be challenging and time-consuming. A new meta-analysis has found that moderate exercise for about 150 minutes each week can significantly reduce liver fat in patients with NAFLD.
The study considered a 30% relative reduction in liver fat to be a meaningful improvement and reviewed 14 randomized controlled trials with a total of 551 people with NAFLD. The researchers found that exercise was 3.5 times more likely to achieve this 30% reduction in liver fat compared to standard care, independent of weight loss. Exercise of about 150 minutes each week at moderate intensity is the exact recommendation from public health experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Optimal Dose of Exercise for Reducing Liver Fat
The researchers in the meta-analysis determined the optimal dose of exercise by reviewing the participants’ responses. They found that 39% of patients who were exercising briskly for 150 minutes per week or more achieved a significant treatment response compared to 26% of those who were exercising less than that. The researchers suggest that moderate exercise is an effective way to reduce liver fat, even if no weight loss is achieved.
Why Exercise Reduces Liver Fat
Dr. Ani Kardashian, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology and liver diseases at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, suggests that exercise might be burning the type of fat that builds up around the stomach area, which is more associated with fat buildup in the liver. NAFLD is quite common, and like alcohol, fat can cause damage to the liver through inflammation in the liver. Exercise can have a positive effect on the liver, reducing the amount of fat in the liver even if weight loss is not achieved.
Benefits of Moderate-Intensity Exercise
The new meta-analysis found that moderate exercise for about 150 minutes each week can significantly reduce liver fat in patients with NAFLD. An example of moderate exercise would be a brisk walk in which a person might be starting to get sweaty but can still hold a conversation with a walking partner.
Another example would be light cycling. Dr. Jonathan Stine, an associate professor of medicine and public health sciences and a hepatologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, suggests that moderate-intensity activity is something anyone can do, even in a sedentary population.
The exact time frame for the exercise program to have an effect is unclear, as the studies examined in the meta-analysis varied in length from four weeks to one year. Dr. Stine advises focusing more on becoming physically active instead of solely on the numbers. The main takeaway from the study, according to Stine, is to focus on the activity rather than weight loss. The results were recently published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
Moderate exercise for about 150 minutes each week can significantly reduce liver fat in patients with NAFLD. The optimal dose of exercise is brisk exercise for 150 minutes per week or more. The impact of exercise on liver inflammation and scarring requires further research.
However, the impact of exercise on liver fat is good information to provide to patients. Even if a patient is struggling with weight loss, regular exercise can have a positive effect on the liver. It is essential to focus on the activity rather than weight loss to improve overall health.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.