By Published On: 29 April 20223.4 min read

We all know that exercise is good for our heart and overall health. But did you know exercise is also great for our eyes? Read on to see how regular exercise can improve and decrease the risk of 3 common eye conditions.

Full length shot of a young man in sportswear running on a professional treadmill isolated on white background

Dry eyes

Dry eye disease is becoming more and more prevalent, especially with increased screen time and time spent indoors. As many dry eye sufferers will know, conventional treatments, like lubricant eye drops, often do little to relieve symptoms. Sometimes lifestyle changes are needed. A recent study has shown that aerobic exercise resulted in:

  • Improved tear secretion
  • Higher amounts of tears in the eye
  • Less evaporation of tears
  • Lower inflammation in the eye (inflammation can cause redness, dryness, soreness, grittiness and burning)
  • Improved blinking, with an increased number of complete blinks

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of adult vision loss in Australia and worldwide.  Whilst this condition is treatable, a high number of cases go undiagnosed. The primary way to treat glaucoma is to lower the pressure inside the eye. This is done by using medication in the form of eye drops, laser surgery inside the eye, and sometimes surgery.

Regular, moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise (like brisk walking or jogging) can reduce eye pressure. Longitudinal research in the United States has indicated that for every 10-minute increase in moderate to vigorous exercise, the risk of developing glaucoma decreased by 25 per cent.

If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, it is essential to talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist about which types of exercise are suitable for you. For example, whilst yoga can be a very beneficial exercise, certain positions like headstands can raise the eye pressure and should be avoided in patients with glaucoma. Certain types of glaucoma, such as pigment dispersion glaucoma, can be made worse by jogging or other jarring exercises.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is another leading cause of blindness. Factors that increase the risk of AMD are older age, white ethnicity, light coloured eyes, female gender, cigarette smoking and genetics (family history). Obesity and high blood pressure are also risk factors that exercise can improve.

A now-famous study (Klein et al. 1992) showed that men and women with an active lifestyle (walking at least three times a week) were 70 per cent less likely to develop AMD than those who were primarily sedentary.

The beneficial effect may also increase with higher amounts of exercise, with another study (Mares et al. 2011) showing that women with a high level of physical activity were 54 per cent less likely to develop early signs of AMD than women who had lower levels of physical activity.

Conclusion

It does not matter how you look at it; the human body was designed to move. We all know that lack of exercise is associated with poor general health. It, therefore, should be no surprise that the eyes also receive a tremendous health boost when adding an exercise routine into our lifestyle.

References

Haynes, W. L., Johnson, A. T., & Alward, W. L. (1992). Effects of jogging exercise on patients with pigmentary dispersion syndrome and pigmentary glaucoma. Ophthalmology99(7), 1096-1103.

Jasien, J. V., Jonas, J. B., De Moraes, C. G., & Ritch, R. (2015). Intraocular pressure rise in subjects with and without glaucoma during four common yoga positions. PLoS One10(12), e0144505.

Klein, R., Klein, B. E., & Linton, K. L. (1992). Prevalence of age-related maculopathy: the Beaver Dam Eye Study. Ophthalmology99(6), 933-943.

Li, H., Li, F., Zhou, R., Gao, K., Liang, L., & Zhang, X. (2020). Aerobic Exercise Increases Tear Secretion and Decreases Inflammatory Cytokines in Healthy Subjects. The Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology9(5), 404-411.

Mares, J. A., Voland, R. P., Sondel, S. A., Millen, A. E., LaRowe, T., Moeller, S. M., … & Wallace, R. B. (2011). Healthy lifestyles related to subsequent prevalence of age-related macular degeneration. Archives of ophthalmology, 129(4), 470-480.

Tseng, V., Yu, F., & Coleman, A. L. (2017). Exercise intensity and risk of glaucoma in the national health and nutrition examination survey. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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