Greater physical activity reduces the risk of fatty liver disease



Performing between 150 and 300 minutes of physical activity per week reduced the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by 44%. Increasing activity levels beyond the recommended amount also decreased the risk of advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis. These results were published in Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology.

Resulting from the accumulation of fat in the liver, NAFLD and its most severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), are responsible for an increasing proportion of advanced liver disease worldwide. Due to inflammation, NAFLD can lead to buildup of scar tissue (fibrosis), cirrhosis (advanced scarring), and even liver cancer. In the absence of effective and approved medical therapies, disease management depends on lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise.

According to 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150-300 minutes moderately intense cardiovascular exercise as well as muscle building exercise twice a week. Previously, researchers had found that inadequate physical activity was related to all-cause mortality in people with NAFLD.

Donghee Kim, MD, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues evaluated the impact of physical activity on NAFLD, fibrosis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Researchers analyzed data from the 2017-2018 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey, used transient elastography (FibroScan) to identify NAFLD, advanced fibrosis, or cirrhosis, and administered questionnaires to track levels of physical activity. Using the physical activity guidelines, the team categorized physical activity as related to leisure, occupation or transportation.

Among 4,304 participants, those who reported at least 150 minutes per week of leisure-related physical activity had a 44% lower risk of NAFLD.

More time spent performing any type of physical activity was linked to a lower NAFLD risk. People who spent between 150 and 299 minutes exercising each week were 40% less likely to develop NAFLD. Those who spent more than 300 minutes in physical activity each week almost halved their risk of NAFLD (a reduction of 49%).

On the other hand, more time spent sitting was associated with a greater risk of developing NAFLD. When researchers looked at time sitting and leisure-related physical activity, those who spent eight hours sitting per week had a 44% higher risk of NAFLD.

People who spent more than the recommended 300 minutes per week in leisure-related physical activity were 59% and 63% less likely to have significant fibrosis and cirrhosis, respectively.

“Meeting [physical activity guidelines] for fun [physical activity] has beneficial effects on NAFLD, and more than twice the recommended amount of [physical activity guidelines] had a lower risk of fibrosis or significant cirrhosis, ”the researchers wrote.

Click here to read the summary in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Click here for more information on fatty liver disease.


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