As expected, good nutrition and cardiovascular exercise have multiple health benefits, including promoting the health of our eyes and vision. Overall, routine physical activity improves tissue and organ oxygenation, decreases blood pressure, decreases lipid and cholesterol levels, helps our mood, and helps us fight obesity and osteoarthritis. A special bonus of exercise is that it could help prevent blindness. There are also exercises that you can do specifically for your eyes.
Regular physical exercise may reduce the risk of vision loss and blindness.
Exercise reduces many risks to our eyes from various medical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Exercise may help prevent vision loss from glaucoma and wet age-related macular degeneration.
Some eye exercises may help prevent the need for glasses or contact lenses.
How can exercise prevent vision loss?
Most people with vision problems or a family history of vision problems would love to know if a better diet and regular physical exercise will help either improve their eyesight or prevent blindness.
The most obvious benefit of good nutrition and regular exercise is that it lowers stress, which can make our eyes feel better and decrease less eye strain. In addition, regular physical activity can:
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Improve glycemic control in persons with type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Decrease low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels
- Increase high-density lipoprotein levels (good cholesterol)
Physical exercise may decrease risks to vision such as diabetic retinopathy.
Studies show that physical exercise may protect our eyes from damaging eye conditions such as neovascular glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
Cardiovascular exercise can lower intraocular pressure and protect us if we suffer from glaucoma. This is especially true with moderate-intensity, low-impact exercises, such as swimming or bicycling.
Exercise impacts glaucoma in many ways. Exercise can directly increase the dimensions of Schlemm's canal, the pathway for normal drainage of fluids in the eye. Exercise also improves risk factors that cause glaucoma, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Studies have shown an improvement in average visual field loss by 10 percent with an increase in activity.
Some of the best exercises that can lower intraocular pressure include:
- Going for a walk
- Elliptical machine
Be careful to avoid more strenuous exercises with glaucoma because they can actually increase the risk of increased intraocular pressure. These are anaerobic exercises that involve bending, straining, or Valsalva maneuvers. These exercises include:
- Sprinting while running or swimming
- Sit-ups or pull-ups
Wet age-related macular degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration and both can lead to vision loss with aging. The dry form is the most common and results from thinning of the macula, the center of the retina, and the accumulation of tiny clumps of a protein called drusen.
Wet age-related macular degeneration is less common, but leads to more serious vision loss because it involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels. These vessels can leak fluids and cause rapid loss of vision.
People are at risk for wet age-related macular degeneration if they:
- Are overweight
- Smoke cigarettes
- Eat a high-fat diet
- Are over 50 years of age
- Have a positive family history of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or wet age-related macular degeneration
- Are Caucasian (white)
Clinical studies have shown that exercise can lower the risk of wet age-related macular degeneration.
How much should you exercise to promote eye health?
It is unclear how to quantify good levels of exercise, since that may vary with the individual. The key is to judge what is safe for you. Most physicians recommend that their patients either keep up with their exercise routine or begin a safe exercise regime that is best for them.
Exercise is prevention. Moderate exercise is good for everyone’s overall health according to the CDC and American Heart Association.
As a rule, some activity is better than no activity at all. If possible, the minimum should be 150 minutes of physical activity each week. That means 30 minutes a day for 5 days or more. Muscle strengthening activity should be performed at least twice a week, but with caution, if you have glaucoma.
The best way to exercise is by finding something that you enjoy. Exercise should be more of a lifetime activity. It is important to vary the duration and intensity of physical exercise. Exercising with a friend or family member makes exercise even more worthwhile.
Setting goals for exercise is important to improve your physical strength, capacity, and performance. Always listen to your body if you have imbalance, discomfort, or become tired. Many find that exercising at the same time of the day helps with consistency.
Eye exercises for a healthy vision
Eye exercises may be another form of physical exercise that may be beneficial to your eyes. If practiced the right way, eye exercises can help prevent you from needing glasses or contact lenses.
Here are some simple eye exercises you can do at home:
- Focus change. Challenge your focus while in a stationary position by shifting your focus from near to far. This will reduce eye strain, particularly if you are reading or working close up.
- Figure Eight exercises. While in a stationary position, try following an imaginary figure eight for about 30 seconds and then reverse it. This is best done while seated and choosing to focus on something about ten feet in front of you.
- 20-20-20 exercise. This is similar to the focus change exercise. It is something everyone should do if they are working at a computer. Take a break every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Regular physical exercise and a good diet can promote eye health and prevent vision loss. There are limits, however, for some strenuous exercises since they may be deleterious to our eyes.
- Harvard Health Publishing. The lowdown on eye exercises.
- University of Virginia. Exercise can slow or prevent vision loss, study finds.
- Glaucoma Research Foundation. Can exercise lower eye pressure?