- 1Department of Vascular Medicine, Amsterdam Gastroenterology, Endocrinology Metabolism, Amsterdam UMC, Location AMC at University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
- 2Department of Experimental Vascular Medicine, Amsterdam Gastroenterology, Endocrinology Metabolism, Amsterdam UMC, Location AMC at University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
- 3Department of Epidemiology and Data Science, Amsterdam UMC, Location AMC at University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
- 4Medical Library, Amsterdam UMC, Location AMC at University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Background: Exercise is an effective strategy for the prevention and regression of hepatic steatosis in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), but it is unclear whether it can reduce advanced stages of NAFLD, i.e., steatohepatitis and liver fibrosis. Furthermore, it is not evident which modality of exercise is optimal to improve/attenuate NAFLD.
Objectives: The aim is to systematically review evidence for the effect of aerobic exercise (AE) on NAFLD, in particular non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and liver fibrosis.
Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in Medline and Embase. Studies were screened and included according to predefined criteria, data were extracted, and the quality was assessed by Cochrane risk of bias tools by two researchers independently according to the protocol registered in the PROSPERO database (CRD42021270059). Meta-analyses were performed using a bivariate random-effects model when there were at least three randomized intervention studies (RCTs) with similar intervention modalities and outcome.
Results: The systematic review process resulted in an inclusion a total of 24 studies, 18 RCTs and six non-RCTs, encompassing 1014 patients with NAFLD diagnosed by histological or radiological findings. Studies were grouped based on the type of AE: moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). A total of twelve meta-analyses were conducted. Compared to controls, MICT resulted in a mean difference (MD) in the NAFLD biomarkers alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) of -3.59 (CI: -5.60, -1.59, p<0.001) and -4.05 (CI: -6.39, -1.71, p<0.001), respectively. HIIT resulted in a MD of -4.31 (95% CI: -9.03, 0.41, p=0.07) and 1.02 (95% CI: -6.91, 8.94, p=0.8) for ALT and AST, respectively. Moreover, both AE types compared to controls showed a significantly lower magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) determined liver fat with a MD of -5.19 (95% CI: -7.33, -3.04, p<0.001) and -3.41 (95% CI: -4.74, -2.08, p<0.001), for MICT and HIIT respectively. MICT compared to controls resulted in a significantly higher cardiorespiratory fitness (MD: 4.43, 95% CI: 0.31, 8.55, p=0.03).
Conclusion: Liver fat is decreased by AE with a concomitant decrease of liver enzymes. AE improved cardiorespiratory fitness. Further studies are needed to elucidate the impact of different types of AE on hepatic inflammation and fibrosis.
Systematic review registration: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/, identifier (CRD42021270059).