Physical activity as a treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A systematic review

Maureen Whitsett, Lisa B. VanWagner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


AIM: To review the effectiveness of exercise as a therapy for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and potential benefits in treating insulin resistance and atherosclerosis. METHODS: Medline (EBSCOhost) and PubMed were searched for English-language randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies in human adults aged ≥ 18 which investigated the various effects of exercise alone, a combination of exercise and diet, or exercise and diet coupled with behavioral modification on NAFLD from 2010 to Feburary 2015. RESULTS: Eighteen of 2298 available studies were chosen for critical review, which included 6925 patients. Nine (50%) studies were randomized controlled trials. Five (27.8%) studies utilized biopsy to examine the effects of physical activity on hepatic histology. The most commonly employed imaging modality to determine change in hepatic steatosis was hydrogen-magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Only two studies examined the effects of low impact physical activity for patients with significant mobility limitations and one compared the efficacy of aerobic and resistance exercise. No studies examined the exact duration of exercise required for hepatic and metabolic improvement in NAFLD. CONCLUSION: While exercise improved hepatic steatosis and underlying metabolic abnormalities in NAFLD, more studies are needed to define the most beneficial form and duration of exercise treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2041-2052
Number of pages12
JournalWorld Journal of Hepatology
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2015


  • Exercise
  • Fatty liver
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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