The Best Exercises for Your Liver, According to a Liver Doctor

Updated: Jan. 04, 2023

Hepatology doctors say exercise has the potential to help repair a liver that's been overburdened. A personal trainer lists the moves that may heal your liver and promote your total wellness.

Man watching online exercise video on laptop while working out in the living room at home.
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As you kick off the new year, maybe you have a healthy cleanse for your system on your mind. Your liver plays a key role in detoxifying your body, and you can support its function with certain lifestyle habits. According to a personal trainer and hepatologist (that’s the medical term for a liver doctor!), exercise in particular can deliver tremendous benefits for liver health.

Many liver specialists consider a “fatty liver” to be the most common threat to liver wellness. The Mayo Clinic‘s blog defines fatty liver disease as an increased buildup of fat in the liver that occurs when an unhealthy diet or toxins cause excess fat to be stored inside an individual’s liver cells. Fatty liver disease can be associated with excess weight or high alcohol intake, and it’s a condition that affects more than three million Americans each year.

Nancy Reau, MD, section chief of hepatology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest to explain how excess liver fat can affect a person’s entire system. “Not only can fat in the liver be dangerous on its own,” Dr. Reau says, “liver fat can also increase the risk of liver damage from other insults (like medications or viral infections).”

Dr. Reau suggests that everyone should move for a little while each day—but especially for many patients who are managing their liver health, that’s even more crucial. The findings of a 2018 study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) back up Dr. Reau’s points, as the study concluded that “physical exercise is a proven therapeutic strategy to improve fatty liver disease.”

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How does exercise help repair the liver?

“Your muscle mass actually helps support the liver,” Dr. Reau adds. “This is especially important when your liver isn’t healthy, as your muscle is helping it complete some of the jobs it should be doing, like processing ammonia.”

That’s one major reason getting daily movement is so integral to good liver health. The second? “Regular exercise will help decrease inflammation and improve blood flow,” Dr. Reau says. “These changes decrease the stress signals in the liver and help it repair.”

Third, Dr. Reau says, “Regular exercise will also reduce the fat in the liver. Imagine the fat as fuel stored in the liver, and exercise is going to consume this energy.”

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Exercising with companion
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What is the best exercise for your liver?

Dr. Reau says when it comes to liver health, the best exercise “is something that you like and will do on a regular basis,” ideally moving your body for 20 to 30 minutes every day. “The general rule is to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, along with strength training at least two days a week,” Dr. Reau says.

One key she adds, especially for people who are currently managing liver issues: “It is most important that you exercise safely … It never hurts to talk to your doctor first.”

Dr. Reau and Hillary Lewis, an NASM certified personal trainer and co-owner of Shine Society Fitness in Los Angeles, CA, list a few exercise routines that can yield significant benefit for your liver.

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Moderate cardio

Lewis says for optimal liver health, you’ll want to add cardiovascular training into your routine. “Adding a moderate-intensity cardio workout three to four times per week, like walking or swimming for thirty minutes, can aid with blood oxygenation, which will improve the functions of all your organs, including the liver,” Lewis says.

For fans of walking, Dr. Reau offers a guideline: “If you like to count steps instead, we try to aim for at least 10,000 steps a day.”

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Woman exercising at home
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Resistance training

Also, Lewis says, don’t forget about strength training with weights, yoga or pilates. “Strength training can reduce your blood cholesterol and increase fatty acid oxidation, which are both key in healing the liver. Try to incorporate strength and/or resistance training two to three times per week for the best results.”

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Yoga & Pilates

Mat-based strength exercises, like yoga and Pilates, can also be good for your liver. In fact, some seasoned yoga instructors, like Suzanne Deason, suggest twisting poses can help squeeze toxins from the internal organs that the body may then release through digestive waste, as well as the skin and breath.

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Hobbies & housework

A short walk, golf, and even housework can benefit the liver, Dr. Reau says. Just about any activity that gets you in motion could help improve that vital organ that’s so essential to feeling great in general.

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