Keep Moving: Exercise Benefits Your Eyes

Men and women lifting barbell in gymThe benefits of regular exercise are numerous. Decades of research has shown that exercise is key to weight management, mental clarity, stress reduction, and disease prevention. More recent studies have shown a direct impact on eye health as well. Many of our BostonSight community members struggle with chronic and serious illnesses and we strive to be as healthy as we can be while managing these health conditions. In addition to BostonSight® PROSE treatment to overcome specific eye conditions, it’s important to maintain overall eye health as well. Regular exercise can optimize eye health and help prevent eye diseases.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages regular exercise and refers to several studies that show moderate exercise can lower intraocular pressure (IOP) and improve blood flow to the retina and optic nerve. Reduced IOP is very important in preventing glaucoma. People who were physically active were 25% less likely to develop glaucoma than people who were inactive. Another study showed that higher levels of physical exercise have a long-term impact on low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP), also an important risk factor for glaucoma. High rates of cardiovascular fitness were directly correlated with healthy OPP. This longer-term study provided even more evidence that people can significantly reduce their glaucoma risk by remaining physically active and fit.

The incidence of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) increase with age. Recent research has discovered that vigorous exercise can help prevent these sight-robbing conditions. In a study of runners, the men who were most fit had one-half the risk of cataracts in comparison with those who were least fit. Statistics on the incidence of AMD revealed that moderately active runners had a 19 percent lower risk for the disease and more vigorous runners showed a 42 to 54 percent reduced risk in comparison with those who ran less than 1.2 miles each day. Both of these studies show how significantly fitness levels can positively impact some of the leading causes of vision loss.

For our dry eye patients, an interesting study was performed by researchers in India who looked at yoga as a remedy for dry eye resulting from computer use. Although people diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome or dry eye disease were not included in the study, these results indicated that yoga appeared to reduce the visual discomfort of computer vision syndrome, of which dry eye is a primary component of the eye irritation and loss of visual acuity.

How much exercise and what types of exercises are recommended? According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults need 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly plus muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days each week. Moderate activity is defined as working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Examples include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Performing water aerobics
  • Riding a bike on mostly flat terrain
  • Mowing the lawn

Strengthening activities can be incorporated as a part of your regular exercise routine, performed at a separate time, or included as part of your activities of daily living. Some examples are:

  • Lifting weights
  • Attending a yoga class
  • Doing heavy gardening or strenuous housework
  • Engaging in exercises that use the body for resistance such as push-ups or sit-ups

Before beginning any new exercise regime, be sure to check with your health-care professional. Some exercises or physical activities may be contraindicated depending on your overall health status and specific eye condition. Keep in mind that in order to maximize the benefits of exercise, you need to maintain consistent levels of activity each week. Once regular exercise is stopped, the benefits are reduced or cease as well.

Summer is a great time to put on those walking shoes, tune-up your bike, or pull out your golf clubs and get moving while enjoying the nice weather. What helps you stay motivated to exercise? Have you noticed an impact on your eye health from regular exercise?