The effect of acute and chronic exercise on hepatic lipid composition

S.A. Willis, S. Malaikah, S. Parry, S. Bawden, G. Ennequin, J.A. Sargeant, T. Yates, D.R. Webb, Melanie J. Davies, D.J. Stensel, G.P. Aithal, J.A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Exercise is recommended for those with, or at risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), owing to beneficial effects on hepatic steatosis and cardiometabolic risk. Whilst exercise training reduces total intrahepatic lipid in people with NAFLD, accumulating evidence indicates that exercise may also modulate hepatic lipid composition. This metabolic influence is important as the profile of saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) dramatically affect the metabolic consequences of hepatic lipid accumulation; with SFA being especially lipotoxic. Relatedly, obesity and NAFLD are associated with hepatic PUFA depletion and elevated SFA. This review summarizes the acute (single bout) and chronic (exercise training) effects of exercise on hepatic lipid composition in rodents (acute studies: n = 3, chronic studies: n = 13) and humans (acute studies: n = 1, chronic studies: n = 3). An increased proportion of hepatic PUFA after acute and chronic exercise is the most consistent finding of this review. Mechanistically, this may relate to an enhanced uptake of adipose-derived PUFA (reflecting habitual diet), particularly in rodents. A relative decrease in the proportion of hepatic MUFA after chronic exercise is also documented repeatedly, particularly in rodent models with elevated hepatic MUFA. This outcome is related to decreased hepatic stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 activity in some studies. Findings regarding hepatic SFA are less consistent and limited by the absence of metabolic challenge in rodent models. These findings require confirmation in well-controlled interventions in people with NAFLD. These studies will be facilitated by recently validated magnetic resonance spectroscopy techniques, able to precisely quantify hepatic lipid composition in vivo.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-568
JournalScandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports
Issue number5
Early online date6 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • fatty acid
  • lipid metabolism
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • physical activity


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