Overweight people should exercise rather than count kilos if they want to reduce their risk of liver disease, diabetes and cardiovascular problems according to new research from the University of Sydney.
The study, published in the Journal of Hepatology, shows that aerobic exercise, regardless of amount or intensity, can reduce dangerous fat stores in the liver and abdominal organs without weight loss.
Lead researcher Dr Nathan Johnson from the Faculty of Health Sciences says weight loss is the most common prescription for conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but keeping the kilos off is difficult for most people.
“We certainly encourage weight loss and a healthy diet, but the key finding from this study is that both liver and visceral fat can be reduced without weight loss, through regular exercise,” Dr Johnson says.
“The study also shows that most popular aerobic exercise regimes are effective which means we can tailor exercise programs to suit people’s individual preferences.”
Around 60% of Australians are overweight or obese in the abdominal region which increases the risk of excessive fat deposits in the liver, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The latest research suggests that fatty liver may be even more dangerous than visceral fat in predicting adverse health outcomes.
“It’s important that people understand that it’s not necessarily how much you weigh, but where the excess fat is stored in the body that will put you on a fast-track to poor health,” says Dr Johnson.
“We now know that fat deposits in these regions are a catalyst for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, further complications with the liver and even cardiac death.”
The study compared the effect of various common aerobic exercise regimens on improving liver and visceral fat in overweight and obese people who had Inactive lifestyles.
All exercising groups showed significant improvements in liver fat of around 18-29% after eight weeks.
Dr Johnson says the study aimed to identify the best intensity and frequency of exercise for these health conditions and researchers were surprised to find little difference in the benefits gained from different programs.
“Even the exercise group which didn’t meet recommended levels of weekly physical activity recorded some significant improvements which shows a lot of promise for this type of lifestyle intervention,” says Dr Johnson.