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The Effects of Exercise on Vision

How Exercise Can Help You See Better, Longer

You likely already know the many benefits regular exercise has for your health -- improved energy levels, lower blood pressure, weight loss. But did you know exercise can also have a positive impact on your eyes?

Research suggests that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing serious eye diseases and protect your eyes as you age. For one, many eye diseases are linked to other health problems that can be avoided by regular exercise, including high cholesterol levels, diabetes and blood pressure. Regular exercise can help prevent these health issues or mitigate their effects, keeping your eyes healthier in the process.

But a handful of studies have also delved into the links between regular exercise and glaucoma and macular degeneration. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, one study found that people who engaged in moderate physical exercise were about 25 percent less likely to develop glaucoma than people who were largely inactive. Though the author of the study, Paul Foster, MD, could not comment on the cause, he told the academy there is certainly an association between a sedentary lifestyle and factors which increase glaucoma risk. Exercise has also been shown to help people who have glaucoma improve their vision.

Other studies have examined whether there is a relationship between physical activity and age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the primary cause of severe vision loss in people over age 60. It consists of a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula, a small area in the retina responsible for your central vision. A study examining the medical history of more than 3,800 people found that people who exercised three times a week were less likely to develop macular degeneration than those who didn’t exercise. A pair of 2009 studies focused on runners found that running reduced the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. And a more recent, 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience explored a similar question using mice. Although there isn’t yet sufficient research to definitively prove that exercise can prevent macular degeneration in human eyes, the existing research is pointing in that direction.

Though age-related vision loss is extremely common, all this research points to the possibility that you may be able to keep your vision longer simply by exercising regularly. That gives you a cheap, effective tool beyond going to your ophthalmologist for regular eye exams to ward off serious eye diseases down the road. Plus, it’s good for the rest of your body.