It’s difficult to argue with the facts on fatty liver disease. As noted by the Boston Medical Journal of Open Gastroenterology, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of chronic liver disease across the globe. It’s also closely linked to obesity, so most treatment plans usually involve a general statement to the patient to “lose weight.”
However, significant weight loss is a challenging demand. Trial studies have shown that patients who lose weight under a strict diet and exercise regimen successfully improve their fatty liver diseases, though investigators admit that such a regimen would be difficult for people in real life to follow.
Fortunately, new research suggests that people with fatty liver disease don’t necessarily have to lose weight to improve their condition. A recent study published in the Journal of Hepatology shows that a simple increase in regular physical activity can significantly help reduce liver disease. The magic amount of exercise? About 2,500 more steps per day.
For the study, investigators recruited 96,688 participants from the U.K. and had them record their physical activity using wrist accelerometers. The research team noted that 714 participants had already been diagnosed with liver disease at the start of the study, while 95,974 participants had never been diagnosed. In follow-ups, which averaged out at five-and-a-half years later, 374 of the participants who had never been diagnosed had subsequently developed liver disease.
The data on exercise in relation to a reduction in liver disease was very promising. Participants who averaged an additional 2,500 steps per day experienced a 38 percent reduction in chronic liver disease. In those same patients, the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease was also reduced by an impressive 47 percent compared to those who exercised the least.
The participants who had liver disease at the start of the study showed the most change when they added more exercise to their daily routines. In this group, patients who exercised the most reduced their risk of death—caused by liver disease—by a whopping 89 percent. They were also 85 percent less likely to die in general. For all participants who either had liver disease at the start of the study or developed it over time, 2,500 more steps per day reduced their risk of disease progression by 44 percent.
Why might exercise do so much to improve fatty liver disease? As research from Gene Expression: The Journal of Liver Research points out, a lack of physical activity is strongly associated with the severity of fatty liver disease, regardless of weight. This fact supports the theory that exercise alone can improve the disease, as does evidence from clinical and scientific studies. Research shows that exercise directly benefits the liver because it increases fatty acid oxidation, or the breakdown of fatty acids, and decreases fatty acid synthesis. Plus, exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, meaning that cells in the body are more likely to absorb fatty acids for energy instead of letting the molecules sit in the blood and get delivered to the liver.
So, what’s the takeaway? The more exercise you get or the more steps you take in a day, the better. Based on the study parameters and the research team’s findings, 2,500 more steps are enough to make a difference. Additional steps beyond that can only benefit your liver health. Does this mean that 2,500 more steps per day will keep the doctor away? If you’re looking to reduce visits to the doctor because of your liver, it very well might.