As a cardiologist, I’ve often mentioned to you that what’s good for your heart is good for your brain and your eyes. This may be true because all 3 organs are made of similar tissues and depend on a strong flow of blood and oxygen to stay healthy.
Recent statistics, though, show that Americans – especially older people –are developing eye disease at breakneck rates. Why? That’s what I’d like to talk to you about here as well as new research that shows how adding 2 easy to do, enjoyable things to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of eye disease.
Protecting Your Vision: 2 Easy, Enjoyable Things That Help
A few short years ago in 2012, the American Medical Association published a study in their journal, JAMA, which said Americans are developing visual impairment (not due to corrective lenses) at significantly increased rates. To give you an idea, the study reported that approximately 3 million Americans, aged 12 and over, are visually impaired from non-refractive error (requiring corrective lenses).
Nonreactive refractive error visual impairment includes conditions like ARMD (age-related macular degeneration), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, glaucoma and other eye diseases. These are all eye conditions that typically start affecting people in middle-age and older.
Another earlier (2009) study out of Australia, the Blue Mountains Eye study, also published their findings on visual impairment in JAMA. In that study, they found that people ages 49 to 74 – Baby Boomers and older – with non-refractive error visual impairment also had a shorter lifespan.
But why are people developing such high rates of visual impairment?
The 2012 AMA study proposed the culprit: Diabetes. Their study explained that Americans – especially older adults – are also developing diabetes at similar rates as they’re developing visual impairment. No surprise there – diabetes and even pre-diabetes (chronically higher, borderline blood sugar levels) can wreak havoc on the eyes, as it does the heart and the brain. According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2013 statistics, nearly 10% of the entire American population has diabetes – 25% being people over age 50.
Shockingly, 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and only 7.3% have been told that they have it. So, with all this diabetes going around in our country, it’s no wonder that vision impairment is also high in Americans.
So, what can you do to better protect your vision and not become one of these statistics?
Well, the first answer is to prevent getting diabetes in the first place. Maintaining a normal weight, reducing/omitting your refined sugar intake as well as cutting back on portions of dense starches (potatoes, rice, pasta) can help normalize blood sugar levels.
But that’s not all you can do… And I think you’ll find them rather enjoyable options.
New research (March 2014) out of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, offered 2 lifestyle-tweak solutions that help decrease vision risk that may surprise you:
1. Adopting a physically active lifestyle. As the 2012 JAMA study concluded, one of the main reasons visual impairment is increasing in Americans is because the prevalence of diabetes is also increasing. Diabetes in America is at epidemic rates but that’s likely because one of its major causes – obesity is also on the rise. As a nation, we’re more obese today than ever before because of our technologically advanced world which has contributed to our sedentary lifestyles. Most of us sit at desk jobs for long hours. In our free time, we spend way too much time watching television, surfing/socializing on the internet (sitting at a computer) and not enough time engaged in regular physical activity/exercise.
In the Wisconsin study, sedentary people developed visual impairment about 3 times more than non-sedentary people (those who exercised/were physically active at least 3-4 times a week). The statistics tell the real story – amongst the non-sedentary, physically active people, they had 58% decreased odds of developing visual impairment. That makes sense to me, as non-sedentary, physically active people are less likely to be obese and less likely to develop diabetes.
2. Occasional drinking. This finding of the study is a little surprising. Apparently, people who drink occasionally – people who drink 1 or less drinks per week throughout the year, have only a 4.8% of developing visual impairment compared to 11% of non-drinkers who develop visual impairment. The occasional drinkers had a 49% decreased risk of developing visual impairment – just by simply enjoying a drink once a week.
Now, these findings shouldn’t be interpreted that the more you drink the more your risk of visual impairment decreases. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The odds for developing visual impairment in heavy drinkers (many who also smoke) increase significantly.
It seems that enjoying 1, possibly 2 drinks a week, may be another healthy tool in your arsenal against developing eye disease. That can be included in an enjoyable, relaxing get together with friends, or family, once a week that also helps to relieve stress. Stress contributes to high blood pressure that has also been shown in studies to damage eye health.
In my opinion, the results of the recent Wisconsin study are promising in that they prove that there are simple, easy things you can do to modify your risks for getting, not only eye disease, but other debilitating diseases that become more common in middle-age and older years.
So, direct yourself away from your iPhone, iPAD, computer screen or the television, and add more physical activity to your lifestyle at least 4 times a week. Take time out of your life to relax with friends, or family, over a glass of wine, or 2, or your favorite drink and put a little fun and enjoyment in your life. It’s amazing how simple changes like this can have a significant impact on your health as you get older.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
American Diabetes Association Statistics March 2013, http://professional.diabetes.org/admin/UserFiles/0%20-%20Sean/FastFacts%20March%202013.pdf
Prevalence of Visual Impairment in US Increases, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121211163506.htm
Noncorrective Vision Problems Associated with Shorter Lifespan in Older Adults, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091012230447.htm