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Exercise and Fatty Liver

A regular resistance-training program can significantly reduce accumulation of fat in the liver, a new study finds.

Some 25 percent of Americans have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a disorder that increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. NAFLD can’t yet be treated with drugs, but because excess weight and physical inactivity both contribute to it, changes in nutrition and exercise can help.

Researchers at Israel’s University of Haifa School of Public Health and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center randomly divided 64 20- to 65-year-old men and women with NAFLD into two groups: one that lifted weights in a gym for 40 minutes three times a week, and one that did stretching exercises at home three times a week. Researchers controlled for excessive alcohol consumption, but participants were otherwise told to follow their normal routines.

After three months, the group that resistance-trained saw a 10 percent decrease in liver fat and a significant decrease in blood-cholesterol levels, compared with the group that stretched.

The training the participants did was moderate, yet it still significantly improved their condition, reports coauthor Shira Zelber-Sagi, PhD, head of the university’s nutrition, health, and behavior program.

People with NAFLD who do regular aerobic exercise — or who did resistance training longer, harder, or more often than the study participants did — could see an even greater reduction in liver fat.

Any type of exercise will reduce liver fat by “increasing muscle mass and thus improving insulin resistance and glucose control,” she explains.

Improvements can also be seen from a low-glycemic, whole-foods diet. Combining healthy eating with regular exercise, Zelber-Sagi says, could even reverse NAFLD — or prevent it from developing at all.

40-Minute Weight-Lifting Routine

Want to try the researchers’ 40-minute weight-lifting routine yourself? First, get your doctor’s permission and have a trainer at your gym demonstrate the proper technique for the following moves. Then, three nonconsecutive days each week, do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each, resting for one to two minutes between sets.

  • Leg press
  • Leg extension
  • Leg curl
  • Seated chest press
  • Seated rowing
  • Latissimus pull down
  • Biceps curl
  • Shoulder press

Once you find that you can do one or two extra reps of a certain move, increase the weight on that machine by 2 to 10 percent. — Elizabeth Kuster

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