We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” It is easy for us to believe that eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables is better than a diet of french-fries and potato chips. Most of us also believe that getting some exercise is better for our body than spending the afternoon on the couch watching football...unless the Chiefs are playing! This week’s blog will focus on some of the things we can do to help our eyes maintain as good of vision as possible as we age.
Not smoking is probably the #1 lifestyle decision we can make for our eyes and our bodies as a whole. Smoking leads to earlier development of cataracts. Those who smoke are twice as likely to suffer from dry eye symptoms. There is a 3x risk of developing macular degeneration in smokers versus nonsmokers. If we break this down to women who smoke versus women who do not smoke, the risk of developing macular degeneration is 5.5x higher in those who smoke. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of vision loss. The incidence of diabetes is 30-40% higher in those who smoke. Those who smoke are 4x more likely to go blind in old age. It is never too late to quit! The following link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources for those interested in breaking the habit. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/index.html
Exercise is another lifestyle change that can benefit the eyes. Many diseases of the eye are linked to systemic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Exercise for as little as 30 minutes, 3 times a week has shown benefits with each of these three conditions. Also, studies have shown that an increased frequency of exercise and duration of exercise are independently associated with reduced eye pressure, which is beneficial in the management of glaucoma. Exercise has also been show to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
A well balanced diet has been associated with benefits to several ocular conditions. Food such as fish and nuts that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be beneficial in treating dry eye and preventing macular degeneration. Green leafy vegetables that contain lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial at slowing the progression of macular degeneration. Fruits that are high in vitamin C help at slowing the development of cataracts and slowing the development of macular degeneration. Eating whole grain foods as opposed to those made with white, refined flour are thought to be beneficial at slowing aging changes within the eye.
Protecting the eyes from ultraviolet light exposure is protective to the eye. This can delay the development of cataracts. It can slow the progression of macular degeneration or minimize its development. It can also, minimize dry eye symptoms. Simply wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat are an effective means of blocking UV exposure.
As you can see, there are several lifestyle changes that each of us can make to help preserve the health of our eyes and slow any aging changes. As the population continues to live longer, incorporating these modifications to our lifestyle can help increase the odds of our eyesight having a similar lifespan as the rest of our bodies.