Twenty minutes of brisk walking a day helps keep body weight under control, improves breathing, flexibility, muscle strength and mood. And from today we know that they also help counteract fatty liver. This emerges from a very recent scientific research that appeared in The American Journal of Gastroenterology thanks to the work of a group of scientists from Pennsylvania State University (Stine et al, AJG, 2023).
Fatty liver, what it is and its risks
Fatty liver, or hepatic steatosis, is a condition in which fats accumulate in the liver cells. This can be due to alcohol abuse but also, in the absence of alcohol abuse, from a diet that is too rich in fat. Fatty liver has no symptoms and is not a disease by itself. However, in 10% of people with fatty liver this condition can evolve into more serious forms characterized by inflammation and fibrosis, namely hardening of the liver, up to cirrhosis and cellular degeneration. Fatty liver is a more common condition than you think. According to estimates, more than 25% of the population has fatty liver.
What to do to combat fatty liver
It is certainly important to choose a healthy and varied diet, which includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and to limit refined foods that are too rich in fat and sugar. Foods and drinks that have been shown to counteract fatty liver are, for example, sesame and flax seeds, but also cranberries, grapes, honey, broccoli, cabbage and green tea. It is also important to sleep well and do physical activity even if, as regards the beneficial effects of physical activity in the case of fatty liver, these had not been quantified up to now. The Penn State study instead sheds light on this aspect.
Moderate physical activity counteracts fatty liver, the study
Scientists were based on data provided by 14 previous studies, involving a total of 551 people, all with fatty liver. Well, all the experiments that required their participants to perform physical activity, such as brisk walking for 150 minutes a week, which is about 20 minutes a day, showed a scientifically measurable improvement in the condition of the fatty liver. In particular, this type of physical activity, with the indicated intensity and duration, increased by three and a half times the probability of seeing the levels of fat in the liver reduced by 30% compared to those who do not follow an active lifestyle or exercise for a shorter period of time. The 30% reduction of fat in the liver is considered the limit to talk about improvement of fatty liver and allows to make a prediction on its evolution. In particular, when there is this 30% reduction of fat in the liver, the probability of its evolution into fibrosis is reduced.
Today we know that we have one more reason to keep active. A brisk walk, jog, swim, or bike ride not only help maintain body weight, improve mood and cardiovascular health, but also protect the liver. 20 minutes of moderate physical activity a day is enough, a small investment in terms of time but with great benefits.