WASHINGTON Regular moderate exercise helps people with diabetes to reduce fat in their livers, in turn potentially preventing liver failure and heart disease, U.S. researchers said on Friday.
People with type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease and one closely tied to obesity, often have elevated liver fat levels and are at high risk for a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Diabetics who did a six-month program of cardiovascular exercise and weight lifting three times a week cut the fat in their livers by about 40 percent in the study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
They said the study, which used magnetic resonance imaging scans, is the first to show exercise can get fat out of the livers of people with type 2 diabetes.
"What we were able to demonstrate pretty definitively is that yet another benefit of exercise is to help reduce liver fat," Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry Stewart said in a telephone interview.
Stewart presented the findings at an American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation meeting in Indianapolis.
The condition, also known as hepatic steatosis, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and a higher risk for diabetes-related heart problems.
Seventy-seven men and women with diabetes, most of whom were overweight or obese, took part in the study.
About half were assigned to moderate exercise including 45 minutes of running on a treadmill, using a stair-climbing machine or riding a bicycle for 45 minutes three times a week, along with 20 minutes of lifting weights.
The others were not placed in any formal fitness program, and most got little physical activity. At the end of six months, they had no improvement in liver fat.
Those in the exercise group also improved their overall fitness, shedding weight, gaining muscle strength and losing abdominal fat.
Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem in the United States and many other countries, fueled by increasing obesity. The American Diabetes Association said about 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, mostly type 2.
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand)