Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) – Lori Ryan AEP

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which there is excess fat stored in the liver, not because of heavy alcohol use. There are two forms of NAFLD: non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). People will generally be diagnosed with one form or the other, however, it is possible for someone to be diagnosed with one and then later, the other.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver:

A form of NAFLD in which there is fat stored in the liver, however, there is little or no inflammation. This form of NAFLD typically will not progress to cause liver damage or complications, though enlargement of the liver can cause pain.


Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis:

A form of NAFLD where in addition to fat stored in the liver, there is also inflammation and liver damage. This inflammation and tissue damage can result in fibrosis or scarring of the liver. NASH may lead to permanent scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis.


Risk Factors:

Modifiable Risk Factors Non-modifiable Risk Factors
·         Type 2 diabetes

·         Waist circumference

·         High blood pressure

·         High cholesterol

·         Low high-density lipoprotein (HDLs)

·         Metabolic syndrome

·         Age


Why Exercise with NAFLD?

Benefits of Exercise:

  • Increased oxidative rate of free fatty acids.
  • Reduce systemic inflammation.
  • Reduces the affects of reactive oxygen species.
  • Improves mitochondrial reactions which is both preventative of NAFLD and avoids further complications for those already diagnosed.
  • Decreases/reverses the effect of co-morbidities.


What to do:

It is well known that exercise is beneficial for those with NAFLD, however, there is no specific protocol to follow. In saying that, the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults offers a good outline. This includes 150 minutes per week of light to moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Aerobic exercise will aid in fat loss and improved oxygen uptake and includes activities such as walking, swimming, cycling, and running. It is also recommended that two days of resistance exercise per week be performed targeted large muscle groups which will help to preserve skeletal muscle mass, improve muscular strength, decrease body fat and aid in improving insulin resistance due to the uptake of glucose into the muscles.