I’m always telling my readers about the value of exercise for your overall health, but I haven’t really spoken to you about how it can help prevent eye disease. I was pleasantly surprised to come across some interesting and helpful information about how exercise can help prevent, and/or slow down the progression of, age-related eye disease, so I’m excited to tell you about it.
Exercise Decreases Risk for Retinal Eye Damage
As you get older, you’re at greater risk for developing age-related eye disease, like macular degeneration, which involves damage to your retina. ARMD – age related macular degeneration – along with cataracts, is one of the leading causes of blindness in older people. ARMD is caused by damage to the light-sensing photoreceptors of the retina, the eye’s nerve cells that send visual messages to the brain to help you see clearly.
It has been known for a while that aerobic exercise helps protect the brain against neurodegenerative disease, or injury, but researchers weren’t really clear about how exercise might affect vision until recently. Researchers at Atlanta’s Emory University Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation decided to do some studies find out more about it.
In one study, they ran some lab animals on treadmills – making them do aerobic exercise about 1 hour a day, 5 days a week for 2 weeks – versus the control group who did no exercise. The researchers then exposed them to very bright light which is known to damage retinal photoreceptors and bring on the retinal degeneration seen in vision disease occurring in older people. The results were surprising…
The researchers found that the lab animals who had done the treadmill training had preservation of their photoreceptors and retinas over the other non-exercising group. The exercising group, after having been exposed to the bright, retina damaging light, had lost only half the number of photoreceptors than the others. The researchers were thrilled to conclude that a simple prescription like aerobic exercise could have a protective effect on retinal health and vision. But that wasn’t the only benefit of the exercise…
The researchers found that the group who had exercised also had a higher level of a growth and health-promoting protein referred to as BDNF – brain derived neurotrophic factor. This protein added further protection against the damage to the photoreceptors.
The happy conclusion of this research is that if you can protect your eyes against age-related retinal damage by doing aerobic exercise several times a week. In fact, the researchers concluded, the study results suggested that people who already had age-related retinal disease, or have early signs of it, could likely slow down the progression of it by getting more aerobic exercise.
Other Things You Can Do To Protect Your Retina
Your sight is precious and, as you get older, you need to take preventative measures to ensure that it stays intact. Here are some other things you can do to keep your retina, and the rest of your eyes, healthy:
1. Wear sunglasses. Bright sunlight damages retina photoreceptors. Be sure to wear sunglasses while out in the sun, even in the winter when the sun bouncing off the white snow can be even brighter.
2. Eat a vision-optimal diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants like Vitamin C, A, E, that help fight free radical damage to eyes. Vitamin C also helps build collagen that, like your skin, keeps eye structures strong. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help promote health of the retina as does Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. DHA helps prevent photoreceptor damage of your eyes. They contain the most amount of DHA in your body so amounts must be kept optimal. To be sure you’re getting enough of these, an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement, or specific vision supplement, can be beneficial.
3. Stay hydrated. Your eyes are mostly water. If your body is dehydrated, so are your eye tissues, and the more at risk for damage they become. Drink half your weight in water ounces every day (160 lbs = 80 ounces water).
For more information on taking care of your eyes as you get older, see another article by me on this subject on this site under Vision Care, Vision II, DHA Fatty Acids Protect and Improve Vision.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.