Exercise, it’s something most of us don’t get enough of, but we have very good intentions to be more active. There are lots of reasons to be more active, better weight management and good mental health are good motivators. Now there is another reason to get moving. You can improve your liver health with exercise and prevent the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). You may not know you have NAFLD, but globally 25% of everyone has this condition, also known as metabolic liver disease. There are other health risks that go along with this condition, as many also have type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of liver cirrhosis (even if you don’t drink alcohol).
As the name implies, NAFLD means the liver has fat deposits and over time this impairs the function of the mitochondria. Our mitochondria make energy available to the cells, which ultimately yields adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for cellular energy. This is why mitochondria are considered the power plants of the cell. When our mitochondria do not function properly there is a risk for the development of liver insulin resistance and liver inflammation.
What does exercise do for the liver?
To prevent and treat NAFLD, lifestyle modification including healthy eating and increasing physical activity is recommended. In the study, mice were fed a high-energy diet. Some of the mice also received regular treadmill training. Following the six-week intervention, the researchers examined the animals’ livers and muscles for changes in the mitochondria and how the liver metabolizes sugars, including glucose and fructose. They found that less fat was stored in the liver and the mice had better glucose control, which reduced the risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes. The researchers concluded that regular physical activity regulates multiple important metabolic pathways, which cannot be achieved with singular therapies for NAFLD or blood sugar medications.
How much exercise is necessary for better health?
When it comes to exercise, many likely start out as overachievers. We make promises to go to the gym daily or sign up to run a half marathon. Those are admirable, but nor required. Getting outside for a half hour walk is not only exercise, as you’ve just read, it improves liver health, and it gives us more of a vitamin we are all missing, vitamin N, for nature. “More than just “feeling good” while outside, natural “green time” reduces the negative mental effects of stress such as anxiety, restlessness, and irritability,” says Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH, in this article on the health benefits of being in nature.
As Dennis Godby, ND says, “Now before you start thinking of an excuse, like it’s too complicated, too time-consuming and costly, or takes too much time, small changes make a big difference. What I would say to that is: start walking. Walking is a wonderful solution. There’s no cost and you can walk anywhere.” Dr. Godby started out as a runner, but a knee injury sidelined him. He took up walking and found he had more time to actually take in the scenery and enjoy being active. Read more of his walking story here.
For more on the importance of movement, check out this webinar on the radical ways that movement can improve your physical and mental health and support your muscles and posture from Michelle Simon, ND, president and CEO of INM.
Wait there is more on health and exercise
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Kimberly Lord Stewart is the content and marketing director for The Institute for Natural Medicine. She enjoys walking, hiking and snowshoeing with her dog Tahoe for exercise in the Rocky Mountains.
Source: Miriam Hoene, Lisa Kappler, Laxmikanth Kollipara, Chunxiu Hu, Martin Irmler, Daniel Bleher, Christoph Hoffmann, Johannes Beckers, Martin Hrabě de Angelis, Hans-Ulrich Häring, Andreas L. Birkenfeld, Andreas Peter, Albert Sickmann, Guowang Xu, Rainer Lehmann, Cora Weigert. Exercise prevents fatty liver by modifying the compensatory response of mitochondrial metabolism to excess substrate availability. Molecular Metabolism, 2021; 54: 101359 DOI: 10.1016/j.molmet.2021.101359