Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects nearly 30 percent of the global population and, over time, can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. While there are no approved drug treatments or effective cures for this condition yet, previous research has shown that exercise can improve liver fat, physical fitness, body composition, and quality of life for patients diagnosed with this disease. However, the precise “dose” of exercise to help NAFLD patients achieve clinically meaningful improvements (defined as at least a 30 percent reduction of liver fat) has remained a mystery for decades.
Now, by reviewing 14 studies with a total of 551 subjects with NAFLD who participated in randomized, controlled trials involving exercise interventions, a team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University has found that 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity per week can significantly reduce liver fat.
“Our findings can give physicians the confidence to prescribe exercise as a treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” said study lead author Jonathan Stine, an associate professor of Medicine and Public Health at Penn State. “Having a target amount of physical activity to aim for will be useful for health care and exercise professionals to develop personalized approaches as they help patients modify their lifestyles and become more physically active.”
The analysis revealed that, independent of weight loss, exercise training was 3½ times more likely to reduce liver fat compared to standard clinical care. Moreover, the experts found that 39 percent of patients prescribed greater than or equal to 750 metabolic equivalents of task per week (such as 150 minute of brisk walking) achieved significant responses compared to only 26 percent of those prescribed lesser amounts of exercise.
“Exercise is a lifestyle modification, so the fact that it might match the ability of in-development therapeutics to achieve the same outcome is significant. Clinicians counseling patients with NAFLD should recommend this amount of activity to their patients. Brisk walking or light cycling for half an hour a day five times a week is just one example of a program that would meet these criteria,” Stine concluded.
The study is published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
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