Health and fitness are often a popular topic with weight loss, strength, and stamina, but did you know that your fitness levels and frequency of exercise are also crucial for eye health?
A number of studies have discovered that a good fitness regime has serious benefits for the preservation of eyesight and eye health. The most common eye illnesses to befall people with age are cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. In somewhat different cases, it isn’t an eye illness specifically that causes the problem but an illness that overcomes the whole body, such as diabetes. Although some people are genetically predisposed to these changes, exercise has been scientifically proven to noticeably reduce their risk and maintain healthy eyes.
To better understand the impact of illnesses on the eyes, and how fitness can help prevent them, we need to discuss each one separately:
The most common cause of impaired eyesight and blindness around the world is due to a clouding of the eye lense, known as cataract. Much like a camera lens, the lens inside the eye focuses different sources of light onto the retina, allowing the eye to view objects in clear vision. It also allows us to quickly switch between objects that are close and those that are far away in just a split second. The eye lens is mostly made up of water and protein, which forms a very specific layer over the lense and allows just the right amount of light to pass through. As we age, for reasons still not entirely explained, the protein starts to form clumps, which clouds our vision. If the problem is left unattended, it becomes progressively worse over time.
Research has shown that exercise and nutrition can be very beneficial in helping to treat cataracts before it’s too late. For example, regular exercise (especially outside and at higher altitudes) increases the amount of oxygen that passes through the body. As your heart becomes stronger and you are able to endure longer periods of cardiovascular activity, your heart is able to pump blood (and with it, oxygen) to even the smallest of capillaries, namely, the ones in your eyes. If you lack exercise, the crucial benefits of oxygen will never be able to reach your eyes in quantities that are high enough to keep them healthy.
Additionally, vitamin E and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin found in fruits and vegetables, allow the body to provide the eyes with the right minerals to maintain overall eye health. A poor diet based on processed foods or quick, unbalanced meals, does not have the right qualities to keep your eyes healthy.
Much like your body has blood pressure, so does your eye. Specifically, glaucoma is a condition that causes significant damage to your eye’s optic nerve, due to a buildup of pressure. Intraocular pressure, the pressure inside your eye, cannot be felt. For example, when your regular blood pressure spikes, you will feel pain in your temples or in the back of your head, which will notify you that your blood pressure is not at its optimum level. Unfortunately, no such sensation exists when it comes to eyes, which means that glaucoma is often only noticed during a specific eye test that checks for it.
While nutrition is, once again, important for overall health, for glaucoma, aerobic exercises show a reduction in the pressure that builds up in the eyes prior to the onset of the illness. However, in order to make sure that exercise helps the situation in the long run, you will need to have a steady exercise regime which constantly improves your blood flow. Regardless of whether you are already at risk from glaucoma because of genetic factors, or you would simply like to prevent it, aerobic exercises in combination with healthy meals is the way to go.
Age-related Macular Degeneration
AMD most often occurs after the age of 60. The macula, a small spot in the center of your retina, which controls vision sharpness and focus, becomes damaged with age, causing blurred vision. The macula is home to millions of light-sensing cells, and is also the most sensitive part of the retina. With the help of the macula, the retina converts light into electrical signals, which pass through the optic nerve, sending information straight to the brain. If the macula is damaged, the signals, along with the person’s vision, will become blurry, dark, or distorted.
An unhealthy lifestyle certainly doesn’t help the situation, but the worst possible factor to affect the macula is smoking. No amount of healthy eating or exercise will save the macula if smoking is in any way involved in a person’s life.
Type 2 Diabetes
Although not an eye illness directly, diabetes is one of the most dangerous illnesses for eyesight. Diabetes causes a serious weakness in blood vessels and capillaries, including the capillaries of your eyes. Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract, and glaucoma, are all eye illnesses that can become a result of diabetes. Diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the eyes, causing them to leak or bleed, and prevent them from adequately sending information to the optic nerve and the brain.
Luckily, although diabetes is in some cases genetic, in many cases it is a result of poor lifestyle choices, particularly eating a diet high in sugar and hydrogenated oils and a lack of exercise. Through regular exercise and healthy food choices diabetes can be drastically reduced, and in early stage cases even completely overcome by the individual. Such a boost in health has a direct influence on eye health as well, because it helps to restore the health of tiny blood vessels and restore eyesight.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure, can quickly damage the retina, and cause a number of eye illnesses in the process. The causes of blood pressure vary with every individual, however, if it is not hereditary, high blood pressure is most likely the result of a sedentary lifestyle. Among many other negative effects of sitting for long periods of time, high blood pressure distorts the heart’s normal rhythm, causing it to pump blood at higher, more stressful intervals.
A healthy weight along with frequent cardiovascular exercise are the best, most natural ways to manage blood pressure. Although medication may be required in some cases, most spikes in blood pressure can be treated by a long, brisk walk, or a steady-paced run. When experiencing a headache, people are quick to grab medication to ease the pain. But more often than not, all that is needed is to get the body moving so that blood flow can once again be balanced. Headaches caused by this type of high blood pressure often disappear just five minutes into the exercise.
Poor diets high in sugar, vegetable oils and processed foods create systemic inflammation in the body that has incredibly negative effects on heart health, like artery blockages. It is no surprise that this blockage of healthy blood flow would also be negative for your eyes, preventing both oxygen, as well as healthy vitamins and minerals, from reaching the eyes.
Studies have shown many times that heart health can be improved with health and fitness. Whole foods are especially important because they feed the body with healthy fats and antioxidants to help get rid of LDL, while exercise reduces excess weight and increases stamina.
It is important to mention that the only truly correct way to measure eye health is to have a professional check up with an opthamologist. Any problems that are discovered in the their early stages can be dealt with much more efficiently than if they are left undiscovered for a long period of time.
The following is an excellent, safe eye exercise that helps to reduce the strain in your eyes and relax the optic nerve. You can do this any time, but it is especially useful as an exercise right before sleep.
Phase 1 -
Close your eyes and imagine a large analogue clock in front of your face, with the number 12 above your head, and the number 6 below your chin.
Focus your eyes on the number 12, and move your glance clockwise, stopping ever so slightly when you reach each number. 1...2...3…4... all the way back up to 12.
Focus once again on the number 12 above your forehead, but this time do the same thing counter clockwise. 12...11...10...9…. All the way back to 12.
Phase 2 -
With your eyes closed, focus straight ahead.
Now look all the way up, all the way down, all the way right, and all the way left.
Bring your eyes back to the center.
This time, look all the way up in the top left corner, all the way down to the bottom right corner, all the way up to the top right corner, and all the way down to the bottom left corner.
Bring your eyes back to center.
Phase 3 -
Squeeze your eyes shut as much as you can, and then open them wide.
Squeeze them shut again, and open them wide.
Do this one more time.
Phase 4 -
Rub your palms together with strong pressure, until you can feel heat accumulating between them.
With your eyes closed, place your hot palms gently on top of your closed eyes.
Keep them there for a few seconds and enjoy the soothing heat of your palms.
Repeat this step two more times.