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Healthy Aging

Another Reason to Embrace Aerobic Exercise: It May Protect Vision

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 06/10/2014
Last Updated: 06/10/2014

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If you are lucky enough have normal vision, you may take healthy eyes for granted. But if you started wearing glasses early in life or recently learned you needed them, you may be more aware of and concerned about your eyes and vision.

As we age, protecting eyesight becomes more important than ever; that's because with age comes vulnerability to degenerative eye diseases like age-related (AMD).

Many people close to me are affected by this disease, and the heartbreak and difficulty I witness is distressing. It can strike virtually any of us. It's tough to treat. And it can lead to severely impaired vision—or even blindness.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss among people 50 and older. It causes damage to the macula, which is a small spot near the center of the retina; it's the part of the eye that you need for sharp, central vision that allows you to see objects that are straight ahead.

In some people, AMD progresses slowly, and their vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the progression is faster and can lead to loss of vision in one or both eyes. Risk factors include smoking, race (it's more common among Caucasians than among African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos) and family history (people with a family history of AMD are at higher risk).

Enough bad news. What's the good news?

Researchers have found a link between AMD and some simple lifestyle choices, and you may be able to reduce your risk for AMD—or slow its progression—by making some healthy choices:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in green, leafy veggies and fish
  • Exercise regularly

In fact, a recent study found that aerobic exercise could benefit your retinas. OK, the study was done on mice, and the image of mice running on treadmills might make you giggle. But when electrical activity of their retinas was measured, the mice that exercised showed two times greater function compared with the inactive mice. Even though their eyes were exposed to damaging bright light, the mice in the exercise group had twice as many healthy photoreceptors as did the inactive mice.

If you need more solid evidence, there were women who were studied in a different initiative, and evidence was found that maintaining a regimen of daily physical activity influenced long-term preservation of vision. It helps, too, to follow the .

I don't know about you, but since there's no cure for AMD, rather than feel helpless and frightened, I'm happy to empower myself as much as possible and fight to reduce my risk by going outside for a long walk, hitting the gym or taking my bike out for a spin.

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Very interesting! Is the recommendation for a specific level or amount of aerobic activity? This is good for us boomers to know as we (and our eyes) age.

This line is exactly why I love and devour everything you write: "...rather than feel helpless and frightened, I'm happy to empower myself as much as possible and fight to reduce my risk". That and the fact that I always learn something new when I read one of your pieces Sheryl! Thank you!

Seriously. There seems to be no end to the delightful things that can happen as we age. New to me, this one.

I'm already on all four of your recommendations. Thanks for reinforcing my feeling that I can do something to take care of myself rather than sitting here waiting for my eyes to go bad.

Too bad aerobic exercise wouldn't restore my lousy vision! Seriously though, my father in law is losing his sight, but he has worked out, running and so forth, all his adult life. I believe it is AMD he is fighting.

That is fascinating! I know how important exercise is but would never have guessed it would have any effect on vision. Thanks. Heading off for a walk right now!

I prefer to empower myself too (and had no idea that aerobic exercise was helpful for eyes - makes sense, though).

This is very interesting. So many be fits to staying active.


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