It is very well known that exercise can help keep your body healthy and help prevent heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and many other conditions.

Regular exercise has recently been shown to be good for your eyes as well, and through exercise you can either prevent or improve the prognosis of many eye diseases.

By exercise for eyes, we are not talking in this article about the type of eye exercises that some people claim will improve your spectacle prescription, rediscover your reading or even improve your visual field in glaucoma. None of these claims have any credibility behind them.

Instead we are talking about regular cardiovascular exercise done as generally recommended - raising your heart beat for at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week - supported by a healthy lifetsyle and diet that we have discussed in other articles. Exercise has been found to either help or prevent many of the leading casues of adult blindness in Northern Ireland including glaucoma, age-related macuula degeneration and diabetic eye disease. 

The following information is for guidnace only and to encourage regular exercise. The information should not replace that given by your GP or your Optometrist as part of your routine eye examination. Regular eye exams are essential to detect many preventable eye diseases which are symptomless in their early stages.


The Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science recently published studies that revealed causes and effects between risks for glaucoma and physical fitness. The journal reveals that exercising at higher levels has long-term benefits as it directly impacts on OPP (low ocular perfusion pressure), which is thought to affect glaucoma and a major risk factor. OPP is a balance between your blood pressure (BP) and the intra-ocular pressure (IOP) within your eyes, and improving the flow of blood through your eyes blood capillaries. The results showed that long-term moderate physical exercise is associated with a 25% reduced risk of low OPP later in life when glaucoma is more prevalent.

The research issues warnings that exercise is imperative to not only maintain the tone and shape of your body, but also helps in keeping a check to reduce various risk factors accountable to diseases, and in this case glaucoma.

Patients are also advised to limit their cigarette smoking because, if nothing else, it will improve their general health and hopefully improve their ocular perfusion. In terms of dietary habits, high antioxidants and low fat intake is advocated. Also limit caffeine intake, avoid head-down positions and, because of the possible beneficial effects of resveratrol, drink red wine in moderation. Recently tablets with resveratrol have been advertised without the ill-effetcs of alcohol consumption. 

Chronic high blood pressure is also related to increase glaucoma - speculation is that the blood vessels narrow through athero-sclerotic changes throughout the body but it especially in the eyes, also reducing blood flow and OPP. The benefits of regular exercise in controlling high blood pressure are well reported.

Age Related Macular Degeneration

Experts are still not fully certain as to why the macula can degenerate with age, they do know that there are many controllable factors that can contribute to sight loss. Such factors include smoking, high blood pressure and diets high in fat. Moreover, these factors combined with obesity can increase the risk of macular degeneration significantly. Recently, two Ophthalmologists reviewed more than twenty studies involving thousands of patients across the world to determine the connection between weight and ocular health. Their study found a consistent link between obesity and the occurrence of eye disease.

The same study determined the following information:

  • Obese patients were more than twice as likely to lose more vision than those with normal BMI’s.
  • The bigger a person’s waist, the higher their risk of vision loss
  • Eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration are more likely to progress more quickly in obese individuals.
  • Exercising at least three times a week cut the risk of AMD getting worse by 25%

However, it was noted that protecting your eyes into old age is not as simple as losing a bit of weight. When it comes to preserving eyesight, early prevention is key. A healthy diet and lifestyle is also recommended. 

Another study known as the Beaver Dam Eye Study looked at the relationship between exercise and AMD and concluded that increased walking of more than 30 minutes per day (one mile) decreased the incidence of wet macular degeneration by 30% over 15 years.

Moderate aerobic exercise has also been shown to help preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina even after damage; meaning that you can actually slow down the progression of macular degeneration (or defer it entirely) if the degeneration has already started by taking care of your body. Morevover, a daily supplement with macula protective carotenoids like meso-zeaxanthin and lutein may possibly improve nutritional intake and further your visual preservation success.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness. The benefits of exercise to both prevent diabetes through control of weight and blood pressure will lead to a reduction in diabetic retinopathy . 

If you already have diabetic retinopathy - in particular proliferatve retinopathy, any exercises that increase blood pressure should be avoided. You need to avoid straining, jarring, or Valsalva-like maneuvers, lifting heavy objects and any vigorous exercise that could precipitate vitreous hemorrhage or traction retinal detachment. In addition, do not perform any exercise that requires forward bending such as yoga. Stick to non weight bearing exercise such as moderate intensity biking or walking in the pool. Or try slow, steady hiking, ballroom dancing or elliptical machines at low to moderate intensity. 

The possible benefits of physical activity for the patient with type 2 diabetes are substantial, and recent studies strengthen the importance of long-term physical activity programs for the treatment and prevention of this common metabolic abnormality and its complications. Specific metabolic effects can be highlighted as follows - improved glycemic control and improvement of Vo2max (oxygen uptake), prevention of cardiovascular disease, reducing levels of hyperlipidemia, reducing blood pressure, improved fibrinolysis (clotting), reduced obesity.

Exercise is an absolutely vital part of type 1 diabetes treatment. Staying fit and active throughout your life has many benefits, but the biggest one for people with diabetes is that it helps you control your diabetes and prevent long-term complications. Exercise makes it easier to control your blood glucose (blood sugar) level by increasing your insulin sensitivity. After exercise, your body won't need as much insulin to process carbohydrates.

If your child has type 1 diabetes, making sure he or she gets enough exercise is not only a great way to help manage his or her diabetes but also instill healthy habits from an early age. 

Exercise can also help people with type 1 diabetes avoid long-term complications, especially heart problems. People with type 1 diabetes are susceptible to developing blocked arteries (arteriosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack. Exercise helps keep your heart healthy and strong. Plus, exercise helps you maintain good cholesterol—and that helps you avoid arteriosclerosis.

Additionally, there are all the traditional benefits of exercise:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better control of weight
  • Leaner, stronger muscles
  • Stronger bones
  • More energy

A Few Notes Before You Begin Exercising with Diabetes

If you don't currently exercise (or if your child isn't as active as he or she should be), talk to your doctor before starting. If you are an adult with diabetes, you should have a full physical to make sure you're ready to be more active.

Your doctor will be able to check your heart health, which is particularly important if you already have blocked arteries or high blood pressure. You also need to take into consideration any other diabetes-related complications—retinopathy or neuropathy, for example. As you begin an exercise program, your doctor can help you figure out the best exercise program that allows you to get in shape but doesn't push your body too far.

Before you begin exercising, you need to set realistic goals. If you haven't exercised much recently, you aren't going to jump into running a marathon. In fact, you aren't even going to jump into running a 5k.

Allow yourself some time to build up to a steady, challenging exercise routine. It is okay to slowly increase your physical activity—it's better for your body in the long run.

Finally, talk to your doctor and/or diabetic trainer about adjusting your (or your child's) insulin around exercise. You don't want to become hypoglycemic during a work-out, so you'll need to do some planning.



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