They’re the window to your soul! You want your eyes to stay healthy for a lifetime. When it comes to the sense we value the most, vision tops the list. Most of us will eventually need glasses to see fine print at some point, but that’s easy to correct with the right lenses. However, there’s a more serious age-related eye condition that can rob you of your vision. It’s so common that after the age of 75, one in three people suffer from it. It’s called age-related macular degeneration or AMD. However, a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of developing this common eye condition. We know that being physically fit and active reduces the risk of so many health problems. Can exercise help you keep your eyesight by lowering the risk of AMD?
The Two Types of AMD
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) comes in two forms: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common, affecting almost 90% of AMD sufferers. This progressive eye problem is caused by the breakdown of light-sensitive cells in a portion of the retina called the macula. A healthy macula is important for good color vision and for seeing details and objects in the center of your vision. If you have AMD, it’s hard to read and see items in the center of your vision, especially at night.
Then, there’s wet AMD, a form that sometimes starts out as dry AMD. When you have wet AMD, fragile blood vessels begin to grow around the macula in the back of the eye. These vessels can rapidly scar and lead to significant damage and loss of vision. On the plus side, there are some treatments, like laser surgery, that can reduce the growth of the unhealthy blood vessels and help preserve vision. However, you need to catch it early.
There is a genetic component to age-related macular degeneration. Although it doesn’t have a specific pattern of inheritance, one out of five people who develop it have at least one close relative with it. Therefore, if you have a close relative with it, it’s important to do what you can do to lower your risk.
Exercise and the Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The best treatment, of course, for age-related macular degeneration is prevention. We know exercise is beneficial for every organ in the human body but can exercise lower the risk of AMD?
If you’re concerned about preserving your vision, staying physically active is a smart practice. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison looked at the link between lifestyle habits and the risk of AMD. The study found that women who were the most physically active enjoyed a 54% lower odds of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Another study found that followed 3,874 women and men for 15 years showed that those who walked over 12 blocks each day had a 30% reduction in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
In further support of exercise for AMD prevention, a meta-analysis of 9 studies, involving 40,870 men and women of all ages, published over 25 years found that the most physically active individuals enjoyed a 41% lower risk of AMD relative to those who were most sedentary. Good news if you’re physically active!
The Role of Diet in AMD
Consuming more dark, leafy greens may lower your risk of AMD too. Leafy greens are rich in several key nutrients linked with healthy vision, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. These compounds are called carotenoids and they help protect the light-sensitive cells in the retina against damage from ultraviolet and blue light.
Add more fish to your plate or take a fish oil supplement. Studies suggest that long-chain omega-3s in fatty fish, such as salmon, may reduce the risk of AMD. However, studies are inconsistent with some showing no benefit.
Other Eye-Friendly Habits to Lower Your Risk
One of the most important habits to avoid if you value your eyesight is smoking. It’s not good for your lungs, but the chemicals in cigarettes also damage your eyes. In fact, smokers have a 2 to 4 fold higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Smoking also speeds up the damage once you have AMD.
Invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Ultraviolet light can both damage the cells in the macula of the eye and contribute to age-related macular degeneration. The best way to protect your eyes is to wear UV light filtering sunglasses even on a hazy day.
Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol. Both high blood pressure and elevated LDL-cholesterol may increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Also, get your eyes checked regularly. When an ophthalmologist looks at your retina in the back of your eye, they can see the first signs of AMD, which are yellow deposits on the retina called drusen. Finding clusters of drusen is a sign that you’re at higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Another good screening test for early AMD is viewing an Ansler Grid. The grid consists of squares in the form of graph paper. In the middle of the paper is a dot. To do the test, you look at the dot in the center with one eye and then the other eye. If the lines appear wavy or lines are missing, you may have early macular degeneration. You can even find an Ansler Grid online that you can try at home.
The Bottom Line
Exercising regularly may lower your risk of developing one of the most common causes of blindness, age-related macular degeneration. If you combine it with other vision-friendly habits like eating green, leafy vegetables, not smoking, and wearing sunglasses that screen ultraviolet light, you’ll lower your risk even more. Take care of your vision! It has to last you for a lifetime.
- American Macular Degeneration Foundation. “Don’t Smoke – it Exacerbates Eye Disease”
- European Ophthalmic Review, 2012;6(1):43-7 DOI: http://doi.org/10.17925/EOR.2012.06.01.43.
- com. “How Exercise Can Influence Macular Degeneration”
- com. “Physical Activity Lowers Odds of Early, Late AMD”
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. “What Are Drusen?”
- Mol Interv. 2010 Oct; 10(5): 271–281. doi: 10.1124/mi.10.5.4