Robust physical activity after liver transplantation is an important determinant of longterm health, similar in its importance to the value of pretransplant activity for withstanding the immediate stress of transplantation. Although transplantation normally enables rapid recovery of liver synthetic and metabolic functions, the recovery of physical capacity and performance to normal levels is delayed and often incomplete.
Anatomic measurements of sarcopenia and the physical performance indicators of frailty both tend to improve slowly, and they may, in fact, decrease further in the posttransplant period, especially when the common extrahepatic drivers of muscle loss, such as the elements of the metabolic syndrome, persist or intensify after transplantation. Posttransplant exercise improves fitness, which is a conclusion based on 2 observational studies and 3 randomized trials that assessed endpoints of strength testing, energy expenditure in metabolic equivalents, and peak or maximal oxygen uptake. Importantly, 1 controlled trial found that exercise also improved quality of life (QOL) measured by the Short Form 36 survey, consistent with multiple reports of the value of social support and engagement in sports activity for improving posttransplant QOL.
Developing evidence-based standards for post–liver transplant physical activity baseline testing and sustainment of intensity and quality is a key unmet need in transplant hepatology. At present, it is reasonable for transplant teams to assess fitness and design a tailored exercise program when a recipient is first discharged, to record and reinforce progress at all posttransplant visits, and to set realistic longterm performance goals that will often achieve recommended standards for the healthy general population.