Liver Diseases And Regular Exercise: What's The Link?

Written by Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe on Fri, 01 December 2023

Key Highlights

  • The liver is crucial to maintaining a healthy life and fatty liver disease adversely affects liver functions.
  • Fatty liver disease is caused both by a high-fat diet and heavy drinking, or a combination of these two.
  • Fatty liver disease can be controlled and managed via proper diet and regular physical exercise.
  • Aerobic exercises are commonly seen to improve a fatty liver.
  • Novel approaches in physical activities also cure a fatty liver.
  • Fatty liver disease is the first stage of liver damage from non-viral causes, and it can be reversed before it reaches the stage of cirrhosis.

Don't most people just love their fries, cakes, fizzy drinks, beer, wine, whisky, and sundry other foods and beverages that are practically addictive? But none of them stop to think that while they happily eat or drink these junk foods, their best friend suffers in silence. That best friend is the liver.

The near-zero nutrition and high-fat content of the foods mentioned above give rise to liver diseases, especially because people who make poor dietary choices also have a poor lifestyle, which is marked by a complete lack of exercise for fatty liver.

What exactly is an exercise for fatty liver?

It's a fat-burning regimen that can counter at least some of the liver damage even before liver problem symptoms show up. In fatty liver disease, large amounts of fat start being deposited in the liver, hindering its normal functions - and that's very bad news.

Among its many functions, the liver processes what we eat and drink; enables digestion; removes toxins from the body through liver bile; and regulates blood sugar by absorbing excessive sugar in the blood in response to a high level of insulin secretion from the pancreas. It also makes proteins that enable efficient blood clotting, preventing excessive blood loss from wounds.

You see then, what could go wrong with your body if fatty liver disease disrupts optimal liver functions?

What is the best exercise for fatty liver?

The best exercise for fatty liver is a combination of different cardio workouts that promote oxygen circulation in the body and speed up fat burning.

Cardio exercises can be as simple as brisk walking to something more vigorous like dance aerobics - the best results are to be had if you work out for at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. As the fat melts away, the liver begins to recover.

Since liver problem symptoms often don't manifest themselves until the damage is significant, everyone should work on the assumption that if they have a fatty diet and gain weight easily, then they're at a high risk of developing fatty liver disease. When left unchecked, fatty liver disease can eventually develop into liver cirrhosis.

Don't believe that if you're a non-drinker, you're not at risk, because you are. Excessive fat intake, be it from food or beverages, puts a great deal of stress on the liver. Being very overweight or obese is as bad for the liver as heavy drinking.

Therefore, to reiterate the point, draw up a plan for liver exercise long before you notice any signs of liver problems.

Know the causes of liver disease

Liver disease includes all those conditions that affect and damage the liver. Over time, it can lead to liver failure, and become fatal.

Different types of the liver disease result from different causes. Liver disease may result from:

  • Fat build-up in the liver from a bad diet, including heavy drinking
  • Viral infections like Hepatitis A, B, and C
  • Problems in the body's immune system
  • Inherited diseases due to defects in the genes
  • Cancer, where abnormal cell multiplications may happen in the liver

Understanding fatty liver disease

Fatty liver (hepatic steatosis) is one of the most common conditions present globally. It's caused by having too much fat build up in your liver. A healthy liver contains only a small amount of fat. Should you be worried about having excess fat in your liver? Yes, absolutely!

Initially, the fatty liver doesn't cause any severe problems, and the liver functions almost normally. But if you remain oblivious to the risks and keep consuming large amounts of fat, the fatty deposits in the liver reach a point where the liver becomes diseased.

This is why fatty liver doesn't present any immediate symptoms, and only your awareness of the risk factors can save your liver.

The uncontrolled fatty liver disease progresses through three stages:

  • Steatohepatitis: The liver is inflamed and the tissues are damaged.
  • Fibrosis: Scar tissues start forming in the liver.
  • Cirrhosis: Scar tissues mostly replace the healthy tissues in the liver.

Types of fatty liver disease

  • Alcoholic liver disease: Alcoholic fatty liver is the accumulation of fat in the liver as a result of long-term heavy drinking or even short-term binge drinking. (Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.) About 5% of people in the United States have this form of liver disease.
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): This occurs in people who are not heavy drinkers, but still have fat deposits in the liver from dietary sources and a sedentary lifestyle. The condition affects 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 10 children in the United States. Several factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can increase your risk for NAFLD.
  • Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): This is a sub-type of NAFLD in which there's inflammation of the liver. NASH increases the risk of progression to more serious conditions like fibrosis (scarring) of the liver, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

Symptoms of fatty liver disease

People with fatty liver disease often have no symptoms until the disease progresses to the more severe condition, cirrhosis of the liver. If at all any symptoms are present, they may include:

  •  Abdominal pain or a feeling of heaviness in the upper right side of the abdomen (belly)
  •  Nausea, loss of appetite, or weight loss
  •  Yellowish skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Swollen abdomen and legs (edema)
  • Extreme tiredness and/or mental confusion

Reverse fatty liver disease with exercise

The best remedy for fatty liver disease is physical exercise. Alongside making dietary changes to cut the fat intake, regular workouts help burn the fat that has already accumulated. The combined improvement in diet and daily activity levels helps the liver begin its recovery and reverse fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease physical exercise

  • Aerobic and anaerobic resistance training: Doing these exercises for 4 months at a stretch can decrease the hepatic fat content. These exercises can bring down the body mass index to the normal range, and prevent or reverse insulin resistance. Physical activity and specially structured exercises offer benefits independent of weight loss and represent the core treatments for NAFLD.
  • High-intensity interval training: HIIT is an attractive exercise modality for treating patients with NAFLD, especially those who need better results in a short time. General recommendations include 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, accompanied by strength and endurance training at least 2-3 times weekly; avoiding consecutive days; and including 8-10 exercises using the major muscle groups, with 10-15 repetitions in a moderate to high intensity.
  • Aerobic training: This is a great fat-burning workout; it reduces hepatic fat content by up to 43%. The American College of Sports Medicine defines aerobic training as any activity using large muscle groups; is rhythmic; and, can be continuously maintained. Aerobic training relies primarily on skeletal muscle's utilization of oxygen through aerobic respiration to produce energy.
  • Resistance training: This type of exercise has been widely studied as an effective intervention in NAFLD. Similar to aerobic training, a regimen of resistance training significantly reduces the enzymes alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) in NAFLD. These enzymes are used to monitor liver injury and are found to be elevated in the blood of patients with NAFLD. Studies have indicated that resistance training reduces hepatic fat content by up to 2%.
  • Aerobics and resistance training combination: This is a workout regimen that combines aerobics and resistance training, and is particularly effective for patients with NASH. In a study, this training resulted in a 16% reduction in hepatic triglyceride content, independent of weight loss. Combination training is thought to be a novel approach for NAFLD patients.
  • Novel training regimen: For NAFLD patients, acceleration and hybrid training have been studied. Acceleration training is a form of Whole-Body Vibration (WBV), where energy from an external device is transferred via vibration to the human body at differing frequencies. This physically stimulates your skeletal muscles. Hybrid training involves both electrical stimulation of an agonist's muscle (aka "prime mover" muscle, supplying the most power in a movement) and voluntary contractions of that muscle. These exercises not only reduce hepatic fat but also offer an effective option to NAFLD patients who are unable to participate in aerobic or resistance training.
  • Sporting activities doubling as liver exercise: For some people, "exercise" is the same as "a daily chore" — they simply lack the motivation to keep at it. Nonetheless, they may need exercise to prevent or reverse fatty liver disease. For them, sporting activities such as joining a cycling or running group, playing a game of football or tennis, or badminton can be as effective as being in a gym. Signing up with a group or joining a sports club will also feed one's social needs and motivate one to stay active.


The current high-fat food habits of the global population and the general lack of vigorous activity put many people at risk of fatty liver disease.

Fat deposits in the liver may not sound very scary, but when it goes undetected and unchecked and thus starts developing into cirrhosis, then it becomes a matter of life and death.

Luckily, fatty liver disease is reversible, and all it takes is some awareness and discipline, a better diet, and regular exercise.


Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe

Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe (M. B. B. S) is a MPH  candidate at the University of Manchester. Dr Odoh is also currently a member of the Society of Lifestyle Medicine Nigeria, and aiming to get certified by the International board of lifestyle medicine as a Lifestyle Medicine Physician by the last quarter of 2022.

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Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Dec, 01 2023

Written By

Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe