INTRODUCTION:Exercise training is crucial in the management of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD); however, whether it can achieve clinically meaningful improvement in liver fat is unclear. We investigated the association between exercise training and the achievement of validated thresholds of MRI-measured treatment response.METHODS:Randomized controlled trials in adults with NAFLD were identified through March 2022. Exercise training was compared with no exercise training. The primary outcome was ≥30% relative reduction in MRI-measured liver fat (threshold required for histologic improvement in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis activity, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis resolution, and liver fibrosis stage). Different exercise doses were compared.RESULTS:Fourteen studies (551 subjects) met inclusion criteria (mean age 53.3 yrs; body mass index 31.1 kg/m2). Exercise training subjects were more likely to achieve ≥30% relative reduction in MRI-measured liver fat (odds ratio 3.51, 95% confidence interval 1.49-8.23, P = 0.004) than those in the control condition. An exercise dose of ≥750 metabolic equivalents of task min/wk (e.g., 150 min/wk of brisk walking) resulted in significant treatment response (MRI response odds ratio 3.73, 95% confidence interval 1.34-10.41, P = 0.010), but lesser doses of exercise did not. Treatment response was independent of clinically significant body weight loss (>5%).DISCUSSION:Independent of weight loss, exercise training is 3 and a half times more likely to achieve clinically meaningful treatment response in MRI-measured liver fat compared with standard clinical care. An exercise dose of at least 750 metabolic equivalents of task-min/wk seems required to achieve treatment response. These results further support the weight-neutral benefit of exercise in all patients with NAFLD.
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