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Surgeon David Allamby FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth
 David Allamby

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Why exercise can improve your eyesight (and waist line)

Learn more about vision correction

02
Jun
2018

We all know that exercise is good for our overall health, with physical activity helping to tone our muscles, trim our waistlines and help us focus. But did you know it also has benefits to our vision?

Whilst there has not been a great deal of research on the effects regular exercise has on our eyes, there have been a number studies revealing how physical activity can reduce our chances of developing some of the most common eye diseases, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Maintaining an active lifestyle can help protect us from a variety of health problems, as well as stop them from worsening. Some of these include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol levels

The above conditions have an impact on our vision and our chances of developing eye diseases. Therefore, exercise can help protect both overall wellness and eye health more specifically.

What eye disorders can be prevented by exercising?

Scientists are increasingly noticing the connection between vision and health, and the link between cardiovascular diseases and eye conditions especially. In fact, eye diseases can be a crucial red flag for an individual to seek medical help. The role of exercise is crucial to reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, and as a result eye conditions. Some of the eye conditions affected by physical activity levels include:

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common eye condition occurring most commonly in adults in their 70s and 80s. The disease sees the optic nerve connecting the eye to the brain become damaged, and can lead to permanent blindness if left untreated.  

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reported a study that looked at 5,600 men and women to see if there was a link connecting moderate exercise to their ocular perfusion pressure, (blood flow to the eye), which is an important element in the development of glaucoma. The results revealed that those who took part in moderate physical activity were 25%  less likely to develop this eye condition compared to those people that were largely inactive.

Engaging in moderate physical exercise, like going for a walk three times a week, for example, can lower your intraocular pressure, which as a result will improve blood flow to the retina and the optic nerve. A nutritious diet can also reduce this pressure, and prevent glaucoma as a result

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

A common condition that usually first affects people in their 50s and 60s, AMD affects the central part of the retina, which enables you to have the clear vision you need for daily activities such as reading and driving.

In another study reported by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers analysed the medical history of over 3,800 people to see if there was a connection between developing AMD and being physically inactive. The results proved that those that exercised three times a week were less likely to develop the condition compared to those that didn’t exercise. This emphasises the strong connection cardiovascular disease, exercise and body mass index has with developing eye conditions.

Cataracts

Cataracts are where our lens becomes increasingly opaque and clouded. Whilst the condition can be treated by surgery, exercise can also help prevent this condition and stop it from getting worse.

Regular physical activity causes a high density of lipoprotein concentrations, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. It is essentially good cholesterol. The development of cataracts is associated with inflammation and oxidation, meaning exercise helps to combat and reduce these levels.

Many of us are aware of the importance to keep our cholesterol levels low to prevent heart disease, but it may also be important in preventing cataracts. Foods that are high in fat and sugar do not provide the nutrients for healthy eyes, and high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure are both contributing factors to developing this eye condition.

Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the NHS, this condition is a complication of diabetes that is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina), resulting in blindness if left untreated.

The retina relies upon a constant supply of blood which it receives through a network of small blood vessels. Having high blood sugar levels can damage these vessels and result in loss of vision. If you have diabetes, this can be controlled and reduced with physical exercise and a nutritious diet.

How often should you be exercising?

Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to take part in regular physical activity, whether that’s 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week such as cycling or brisk walking, to 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise, such as running or playing a game of football.

Whilst this may seem a little daunting, it doesn’t have to be as there are many ways you can break up the time across the week, get your loved ones involved and perhaps take up a new hobby.

Exercise on a regular basis and you will see the health results, quite literally!

Sources

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Healio

Virtual Medical Centre

The Guardian

By: David
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