Getting Physical Could Fight Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients who exercised saw improvements in their condition

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Exercise — it's good for more than just keeping the weight off.

A new study found that exercise may improve the health of those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

In fact, NAFLD patients’ health improved no matter how long or hard they exercised.

Nathan A. Johnson, PhD, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney in Australia, led this study.

“The study found no difference in efficacy of liver fat reduction by either aerobic exercise dose or intensity,” Dr. Johnson and team wrote.

These researchers wanted to see how various exercise regimens affected liver health and body fat in obese and overweight patients. They studied a total of 48 obese or overweight patients with NAFLD.

NAFLD is a condition in which the liver has excess fat. This results in metabolism issues that are often linked to obesity and diabetes. Today, there are no approved medications for NAFLD. But lifestyle changes like diet and exercise have been shown to improve NAFLD symptoms.

The 48 patients were randomly assigned into four groups of 12 patients each: 1) low-to-moderate intensity, high-volume aerobic exercise; 2) high-intensity, low-volume aerobic exercise; 3) low-to-moderate intensity, low-volume aerobic exercise; and 4) a placebo exercise (stretching and massage). The exercise programs lasted for eight weeks.

All groups except the placebo group showed improvement in liver fat levels, regardless of the regimen or weight loss amount. In fact, the placebo group increased in liver fat level, Dr. Johnson and team noted.

In an editorial about this study, Rohit Loomba, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, and Helena Cortez-Pinto, MD, PhD, of the Hospital de Santa Maria in Lisbon, Portugal, wrote, "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.”

The study and editorial were published April 8 in the Journal of Hepatology.

The Diabetes Australia Research Trust funded this research. Study authors Dr. Johnson and Dr. Ian D. Caterson received funds from pharmaceutical companies and/or the Australian government.

Review Date: 
April 9, 2015
Last Updated:
April 14, 2015