Exercise for Chronic Liver Disease

exerciseExercise for Chronic Liver Disease

If you suffer from liver disease, exercise is the probably last thing you want to do. Here’s why you should force yourself to get up and go.


When it comes to liver malfunction and disease, an early symptom and one of the chronic debilitating effects is fatigue – the kind that makes getting out of bed a major effort and leads many doctors to recommend bed-rest as part of the care plan for their suffering patients. Despite the pronounced lack of energy, depression and doctor’s orders that may be keeping you on the couch, a little physical exertion can actually be beneficial to your condition. In fact, there is a growing body of research that points to exercise as a valuable tool in the management of acute and chronic liver disease.

More and more physicians are recognizing the value of exercise for their liver patients, and point to improvements in quality of life and better prognoses as reasons to recommend regular exercise as part of their treatment program.

The following liver benefits have been shown in research to be associated with regular exercise:

  • Reduced risk of scarring and cirrhosis in Hepatitis C – Regular exercise reduces the incidence of obesity in HCV patients. Research shows that avoiding obesity helps prevent the resulting conditions – fatty liver, elevated blood glucose, diabetes, and elevated blood insulin – that lead to scarring and cirrhosis.
  • Elevated mood – Depression is a common problem amongst people suffering from chronic liver disease and can even be a side effect of their treatment, such as the pegylated interferon treatments prescribed for HCV patients. Regular exercise helps alleviate the depressive effects by stimulating the release of endorphins and modulating neurotransmitter levels to promote a sense of well-being and strength.
  • Enhanced blood oxygenation – The cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise enhance the oxygen carrying capability of the blood. More oxygen in the blood means more oxygen delivered to the liver, which creates a higher functioning liver.
  • Reduced atrophy – Strength-training supports muscle growth and maintenance which can prevent or delay the severe muscle wasting seen in advanced liver disease.
  • Improved energy – Over time, regular exercise improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. This improves delivery of oxygen and nutrients to all cells, tissues, organs and systems, which leads to a higher energy level.

What To Do

According to Dr. Melissa Palmer, a specialist in treating liver disease, an exercise program that includes aerobic/cardiovascular conditioning and strength training will have the greatest effect on liver function. Aerobic exercises like walking, bicycling, jogging and swimming will improve your cardiovascular system’s ability to oxygenate your blood and deliver it to the liver and the rest of the body. Strength training helps maintain bone mass, increases muscle strength and mass, and helps prevent weight gain through elevation of the metabolism.

How To Do It

  1. Step 1: Start slow. If you have advanced liver disease and/or have not exercised in a long time, you are deconditioned and must exercise on a level that will demand exertion from your body but will not overtax the system. This could be as light as a brief walk (5, 10 or 15 minutes), or wall pushups and curling two soup cans.
  2. Step 2: Get help. A fitness professional who is aware of your condition and experienced in creating “special needs” fitness programs will help you design a program that will help you safely begin restoring your strength and fitness and will allow you to increase the demands as your energy levels and vitality return.
  3. Step 3: Stick with it. Progress may be slow and painful in the beginning. But even a metabolism challenged by chronic disease can respond and grow with consistent effort. Give it a month and see how you feel. Then give it two more. At the end of three months you will be feeling, stronger, healthier and a little more positive about life in general.

What Else?

There are very few conditions in life which cannot benefit from regular vigorous exercise. Chronic liver disease is no exception. The key is to listen to your body, work within your capabilities while trying to expand them, and use the guidance of your physician as you implement your new lifestyle.

Support your body’s ability to tolerate the physical demands of regular exercise by:

  • Eating primarily fresh whole foods, cooked at home.
  • Avoid alcohol, sugars and any drugs not prescribed by your physician.
  • Keep well hydrated every day.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Protect and assist your liver by supplementing your diet with a well-designed liver support complex.
  • Maximize the benefit from your exercise regimen and support healthy metabolic function by adding antioxidant and essential fatty acid formulations to your nutritional supplement regime.

Source: http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2014/06/exercise-for-chronic-liver-disease


  1. kie on July 31, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Could not agree more with this article, I do walk, but before I had portal hypertension, I used to do a lot more like weight training, I used to lift weights 3 times a week stomach exercises all things like that, was told by gastroenterolgist not to lift weights or do anything that will impact on chest or stomach area, have not done that now for 17 months, and my arms have got extremely weak, going to get another opinion see what happens if not just carry on walking, hope you all keeping well Kie

  2. Pugdaddy on September 13, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Kie, I hope that you WILL get a second opinion from a good liver specialist. There has to be a ‘happy medium’ somewhere…and I’m betting that you CAN safely work out, and regain some strength – however it likely will have to be done with light (..or at lest relatively light) weights. Good luck –

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