Can exercise reverse liver damage?

Are you tired of feeling sluggish and gross? Do you miss the days when your liver wasn’t screaming at you every time you went out for a night on the town? Have no fear, because exercise just might be the answer to all your problems! That’s right, friends: it turns out that getting up off your butt and moving around can actually help reverse some of the damage done to your liver. Let’s explore this phenomenon more closely.

What causes liver damage in the first place?

Before we can delve into how exercise can help with reversing liver damage, we need to understand what causes said damage in the first place. There are several potential culprits:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain medications, including acetaminophen (aka Tylenol)
  • Viral hepatitis

All of these factors can contribute to inflammation and scarring within the liver tissue, which over time can lead to irreversible cirrhosis. So if any of these apply to you — especially heavy drinking — it’s definitely worth taking steps now to prevent further harm.

How does exercise come into play?

Okay, so let’s say hypothetically that certain lifestyle choices have led us down a path towards damaging our livers. Is there anything we can do about it besides swearing off alcohol forevermore? Actually, yes! Research has shown that regular physical activity likely plays a role in mitigating fatty liver disease and other forms of mild hepatic impairment.

How exactly does exercise do this? Well for one thing, working up a sweat increases blood flow throughout the body — even reaching those hard-to-reach organs like our pal Mr. Liver. This increased circulation means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients necessary for healthy cellular function.

Furthermore…get ready for some scientific jargon here…physical activity appears capable of upregulating several transcription factors, such as AMP-activated protein kinase and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor delta, which in English means that certain specific proteins get activated when you work out. These proteins help regulate metabolic pathways in the liver cells, ultimately leading to less fat accumulation and more efficient energy utilization.

In other words, exercise can theoretically reverse some of the cellular damage done by poor lifestyle choices. That’s not to say it’s a magic bullet — nothing is! But getting your body moving on a regular basis can absolutely make an impact.

How much exercise do you need?

So we’ve established that physical activity can help reverse liver damage. Great news! But how much sweating exactly are we talking here? The good news is, it doesn’t seem like you need to be running marathon-lengths every day to see benefits.

According to various studies on this topic (see? I’m breaking my own rules already), even moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like brisk walking or cycling for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, has been shown to improve hepatic lipid metabolism and inflammation markers in obese individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). That sounds…well alright actually!

One important caveat: if you’re dealing with serious end-stage liver disease or have any medical complications that prevent high-intensity workouts then please consult your doctor before taking on any new fitness routines. Safety first kids!

Other lifestyle changes that may help

Of course exercise isn’t the only factor here — making smart dietary choices will also play a significant role in overall health and wellness. If reversing hepatic steatosis is our goal then eating fewer carbohydrates/refined sugars/fatty foods/sugary drinks would likely benefit us more than slaving away at squats all day long while still chowing down pizza afterwards.

That being said though… seeing results from diet alone may take longer than seeing them from exercise. Multiple studies have shown that even in groups with high BMI or diagnosed fatty liver disease, significant improvements occurred after a few weeks of moderate physical activity. Watching your plate won’t hurt (unless somebody throws it at you), but adding exercise to the mix can speed up the healing process.

So what have we learned?

  • Liver damage comes from various different lifestyle factors
  • Exercise can help reverse some of this damage by improving hepatic metabolism and reducing inflammation
  • Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like walking or cycling is sufficient for most people
  • Diet plays an important part too, though results may be slower without supplementing with workouts

It’s worth emphasizing here that there are no guarantees as to how much each individual will benefit — genetics, severity of pre-existing conditions etc all play a role. But if anything is going to help give our beleaguered livers some relief….why not give it a shot? Lace up those shoes! Find your workout buddy! And fight back against the damage done…one rep at a time.

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