People who routinely walk and engage in strength training have a lower risk of death from cirrhosis than sedentary individuals. This is according to the first study to follow participants over a prolonged period of time to compare their physical activity with their rate of death from cirrhosis. Fatty liver disease, which is associated with obesity and a lack of physical activity, is a growing cause of cirrhosis. 

Researchers followed some 68,500 women and 49,000 men who began the study without a diagnosis of liver disease. Then, every two years between 1986 and 2012, the participants provided detailed accounts of their exercise habits, including the type and intensity of physical activity.

The participants in the top quintile of weekly walking distance had a 73% lower risk of cirrhosis-related death compared with those in the bottom quintile. This risk reduction was even more pronounced when the researchers looked at the combination of walking and weight training.

“In the U.S., mortality due to cirrhosis is increasing dramatically, with rates expected to triple by the year 2030. In the face of this alarming trend, information on modifiable risk factors that might prevent liver disease is needed,” says Tracey Simon, MD, the lead researcher of the study and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Our findings support further research to define the optimal type and intensity of physical activity to prevent adverse outcomes in patients at risk for cirrhosis.”