Exercise for fatty liver disease has benefits beyond weight loss

Regular exercise has many benefits for the health and wellbeing of people living with fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease means you have too much fat in the liver. It’s the most common liver disease in the world. It affects about one in three adults. If you don’t look after yourself, it can lead to more severe liver disease such as cirrhosis  and liver cancer.

Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), the national accrediting body for exercise physiologists and exercise scientists, has recently released exercise guidelines for people living with fatty liver disease.

The work was led by Dr Shelley Keating, an accredited exercise physiologist, alongside an international team of health professionals including dietitians, exercise professionals and hepatologists.

Dr Keating says regular exercise is an important way of managing fatty liver disease.

“Exercise can benefit liver health by reducing liver fat as well as improving aerobic fitness, blood pressure, blood fats like cholesterol, physical strength and body composition,” she says.

“Regular exercise can also improve energy levels, reduce fatigue, improve mental health and improve sleep.”

While exercise may help you lose some weight, you won’t lose a lot unless you change your diet too. But exercise is still doing you good.

“Importantly, the benefits of exercise can occur even if body weight does not significantly reduce” says Dr Keating.

To reduce liver fat, it’s recommended that people with fatty liver disease do 150 to 240 minutes per week of at least moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

But even as little as 135 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise (e.g. a 45 minute walk on three days per week) has been shown to be beneficial.

“To know that you are achieving a moderate intensity of exercise, you should be able to talk but not sing,” says Dr Keating. If you can’t talk without gasping for breath, it means you’re exercising at vigorous intensity.

While aerobic exercise like walking, swimming or cycling is the most important thing for liver health, strength training (such as lifting weights or body weight exercises) can improve muscle and bone health. General guidelines recommend strength exercises on at least two non-consecutive days per week.

“Remember, the ‘best’ type of exercise is the one that you enjoy and will stick to in the long term to maintain long-term health benefits. So choose something you enjoy,” Dr Keating says.

People with fatty liver disease who are looking to start a new exercise program should seek guidance from a medical practitioner and a referral to an accredited exercise professional such as an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. These professionals can help select exercises that are tailored to personal goals, exercise ability, and personal preferences.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you, visit ESSA’s online directory

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