Affecting approximately 25% of people worldwide, fatty liver disease can lead to serious liver damage.
However, experts say there are currently “no approved pharmaceutical therapies” to treat the disease, reinforcing the importance of lifestyle modification including exercise and diet important to managing the condition.
“There are no approved pharmaceutical therapies, so lifestyle modification including exercise and diet remains the recommended approach for managing the condition,” says Dr Shelley Keating from the University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.
“However, only 20% of people living with fatty liver disease are meeting the physical activity recommendations.”
UQ-led research has found many people with fatty liver disease are unaware that high-intensity interval training improves heart function and liver health.
“Our research found there was a lack of awareness and experience with HIIT, and participants had mixed feelings about their capabilities to undertake the training,” says Dr Keating.
“There were also medical or social barriers to commencing or continuing HIIT such as musculoskeletal conditions and appointments for other conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
“Positively, participants said that having the support of an exercise specialist was a valued enabler and in general they enjoyed HIIT and its holistic benefits.”
The exercise intervention included three HIIT sessions per week for 12 weeks, supervised by a qualified exercise professional.
Sessions commenced with a 5-minute warm-up at 60% of maximal heart rate (HRmax), followed by 4 × 4 min intervals at 85-95% HRmax interspersed with 3-minute recovery periods at 60% HRmax, with a 5-minute cool-down to conclude each session.
The high-intensity intervals were rated as hard to very hard on a subjective exertion scale.
Research collaborator Dr Matthew Wallen from Flinders University says previous joint studies have shown HIIT is a feasible and beneficial exercise option for people living with fatty liver disease.
“People with fatty liver disease are often fatigued, frequently report poor sleep and musculoskeletal concerns, and may have reduced capacity for activities of daily living,” says Dr Wallen.
“These factors, coupled with low engagement in regular physical activity, impact their ability to exercise.
“While these findings hold great promise that HIIT could be an effective method to help combat fatty liver disease with appropriate safety screenings for participants, it’s important people living with fatty liver disease seek advice and support from an appropriately qualified exercise professional or their healthcare provider before initiating a HIIT program.”
Click here to read the study.