We’ve been talking a lot about preventing liver cancer here with the release of our new report. Among other factors, the report concluded that obesity increases risk of liver cancer — a cancer that can stem from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Now comes a study that suggests overweight adults who do even 15 minutes of daily exercise —regardless of intensity or weight loss— can reduce the risk of both liver fat and belly fat, compared to those who are inactive. Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is a sign of poor metabolic health and another risk factor for many cancers.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has become the most common cause of liver disease in the US; it can lead to cirrhosis, which could develop into cancer. People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have extra fat in their liver that doesn’t come from alcohol. Weight loss and exercise are the basic recommendations for obese people who have NAFLD. But what intensity exercise and how much was the focus of this study.
In the study, researchers separated 48 overweight and obese participants into four equal groups of aerobic programs that lasted eight weeks. Three of the groups varied in the intensity and amount of exercise they were asked to do. The fourth group was the comparison, doing stretching and brief bouts of low intensity exercise designed to have no cardio effect. All the groups were asked to both walk and cycle on a machine at different intensities. Two groups exercised about two hours a week; the third was exercising three to four hours weekly.
Both at the start and end of the program, researchers used an imaging technique to measure liver and abdominal fat.
After the two months, all three exercise groups showed reductions in liver fat compared with the placebo group, in which liver fat increased by an average of 14%. The improvement was independent of weight loss.
Liver disease can also come from drinking high amounts of alcohol. The CUP report found that 3 or more alcoholic daily drinks links to higher liver cancer risk.
For more on the CUP report findings with obesity and about reducing the risk, visit Learn About Liver Cancer.
The study was supported by the Diabetes Australia Research Trust. An author is supported by the Robert W. Storr Bequest to the Sydney Medical Foundation, University of Sydney; a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC).