Weight loss remains the most common therapy advocated for reducing hepatic lipid in obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Yet, reduction of body weight by lifestyle intervention is often modest, and thus, therapies which effectively modulate the burden of fatty liver but are not contingent upon weight loss are of the highest practical significance. However, the effect of aerobic exercise on liver fat independent of weight loss has not been clarified. We assessed the effect of aerobic exercise training on hepatic, blood, abdominal and muscle lipids in 19 sedentary obese men and women using magnetic resonance imaging and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS). Four weeks of aerobic cycling exercise, in accordance with current physical activity guidelines, significantly reduced visceral adipose tissue volume by 12% (P < 0.01) and hepatic triglyceride concentration by 21% (P < 0.05). This was associated with a significant (14%) reduction in plasma free fatty acids (P < 0.05). Exercise training did not alter body weight, vastus lateralis intramyocellular triglyceride concentration, abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue volume, (1)H-MRS-measured hepatic lipid saturation, or HOMA-IR (homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance; P > 0.05).
Conclusion: These data provide the first direct experimental evidence demonstrating that regular aerobic exercise reduces hepatic lipids in obesity even in the absence of body weight reduction. Physical activity should be strongly promoted for the management of fatty liver, the benefits of which are not exclusively contingent upon weight loss.