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Aerobic Exercise – A Smart Route for Battling a Fatty Liver


When it comes to reducing the occurrence or severity of fatty liver disease, aerobic exercise boasts a handful of specific benefits.

In today’s society, fatty liver disease is fast becoming a major health menace. Experts estimate that one in every four American adults has a fatty liver – a condition that predisposes people to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Although there is not yet an approved medical treatment for a fatty liver, various lifestyle choices are known to prevent and reverse fatty liver disease. Relatively new research makes a strong case for aerobic exercise as a habit that can protect people from the repercussions of a fatty liver.

About Fatty Liver Disease
Describing the accumulation of fat in the liver, fatty liver disease is characterized by one of two levels of severity. Steatosis, the mild form of a fatty liver, occurs when there is fat accumulation in the liver that is not associated with inflammation. Steatosis typically does not cause liver damage. If recognized before it progresses, lifestyle changes can reverse steatosis.

In those who do not consume alcohol, NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) is the more severe form of fatty liver disease. Besides fat accumulation in the liver, steatohepatitis means that inflammation is also present. The liver can scar in those with NASH, a problem that may progress to cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.

Easing Fatty Liver Disease
Especially for those who have not yet progressed to the more severe form of fatty liver disease, losing weight, sticking to a regular exercise program and eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet have the potential to reverse steatosis. Health professionals agree that adhering to these lifestyle tenements from the start helps to prevent all kinds of deleterious health conditions – including the development of a fatty liver.

According to a recently presented study, aerobic exercise in particular has a positive impact on fatty liver disease. Everyone knows that frequent physical activity is a means to lose weight and improve overall health. However, research presented at the April 2011 Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, D.C. makes the claim that aerobic exercise protects the liver from fatty liver disease.

About the Study
Led by Jacob M. Haus Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Pathobiology, the aforementioned research took place at the Cleveland Clinic. Haus and his collaborators found that those with fatty liver disease who walked on a treadmill at 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for one hour per day for seven consecutive days exhibited several statistically significant fatty liver improvements.

At the conclusion of the study, improvements in the following markers were found:

•    An 84 percent increase in the liver’s polyunsaturated liver index, an indication of an improvement in liver health.

•    An increase in insulin sensitivity, an indication that the body is better able to manage blood sugar – thus reducing fat accumulation.

•    An increase in adiponectin levels, an indication that fat is being better metabolized.

•    A decrease in the production of reactive oxygen species, an indication that less oxidative damage is occurring.

According to Dr. Haus, “Exercise appears to affect the cumulative metabolic risk factors for the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. We like to think of exercise as medicine.”

About Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise differs from other types of physical activity in that it is typically of longer duration, yet of relatively low intensity. It generally involves rhythmically using the same large muscle group for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Examples of aerobic activities are walking, biking, jogging, rowing, swimming and cross-country skiing. As a rule, you should be able to carry on a short conversation while doing aerobic exercise without gasping for breath.

Besides benefitting the 25 percent of American adults with a fatty liver, there are many more reasons to engage in regular aerobic exercise. Six reasons to get aerobic exercise daily are:

1.    Aerobic exercise activates the immune system, reducing susceptibility to colds and flus.

2.    Aerobic exercise helps keep arteries clear and strengthens the heart.

3.    Aerobic exercise can ease depression, reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

4.    Aerobic exercise keeps muscles strong, which helps maintain mobility with advancing age.

5.    Aerobic exercise reduces cognitive decline in older adults.

6.    Aerobic exercise enhances stamina and reduces fatigue.

Although running a marathon may not be everybody’s preference, just about anyone can find a way to include aerobic exercise into their lifestyle. By partaking in this kind of physical activity, fatty liver disease can be prevented, steatosis reversed and steatohepatitis progression halted. As demonstrated by the Cleveland Clinic researchers, long and steady physical activity officially wins the race toward a leaner, healthier liver., What is Aerobic Exercise and Why Should I do it?, Lisa Balbach, Retrieved June 5, 2011, Lisa Balbach, 2011., Increase in Aerobic Exercise May Slow Progression of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Denise Reynolds, RD, Retrieved June 1, 2011,, 2011., Newly Revealed Health Risk Linked to Fatty Liver Disease, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved June 5, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011., Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical, Retrieved June 5, 2011, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2011., Exercise and spirulina control non-alcoholic hepatic steatosis and lipid profile in diabetic Wistar rats, Moura LP, et al, Retrieved June 3, 2011, Lipids in Health and Disease, May 2011.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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