Written By: Reena Mukamal on October 16, 2020 for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Regular exercise can slim your waistline and lift your mood. Now, a new study suggests that exercise may also guard against eye damage. This could help stave off macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss among people 50 or older.
The findings support previous claims that exercise prevents serious eye diseases such as AMD, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. But unlike past studies, which examined disease risk among people who self-reported their exercise, the new study looks directly at the effects of physical activity on the eye.
“The new study is exciting because it supports previous findings with laboratory evidence suggesting a link between exercise and prevention of AMD,” said ophthalmologist and Academy spokesperson J. Kevin McKinney, MD, MPH.
Exercise promotes healthy blood vessels in the eye
Researchers studied two groups of mice: One group had access to an exercise wheel while the other group did not. After four weeks, the researchers treated the mouse eye with lasers to simulate the changes that occur in humans with age-related vision loss. After this treatment, physically active mice had up to 45% less eye damage than nonactive mice.
The study suggests that exercise boosts the eye’s resilience. Exercise may protect against the overgrowth of blood vessels, which occurs in eye conditions such as neovascular glaucoma, AMD and diabetic retinopathy.
Regular physical activity promotes eye health
Scientists are still working to understand how exercise protects the human eye. Their discoveries could unlock treatments for a number of eye conditions.
But for now, it’s clear that exercise can stave off some eye conditions. And if you already have a disease, exercise can help you manage it better. One study found that people who engaged in moderate physical exercise were 25% less likely than inactive people to develop glaucoma. In people who already have glaucoma, regular exercise can lower intraocular pressure and improve blood flow to the retina and optic nerve. Physical activity can also help people with diabetes keep their disease under control. That reduces the risk of complications, including diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of vision loss among working age adults.
How much should I exercise?
The new study strengthens the recommendation that regular, moderate exercise is good for your health. The CDC, WHO and American Heart Association all recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. That’s equivalent to about 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. This can include walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even active gardening. Consistent physical activity can help you and your eyes stay healthy.