Exercise for Eye Health; it hadn’t occurred to me

by | Aug 8, 2021 | Articles

Is eye health something you think you might be able to influence through lifestyle interventions such as exercise?

Exercise for eye health hadn’t occurred to me until a recent conversation with my optometrist colleague Bansi Dhamecha. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a serious eye disorder associated with ageing. It is an eye disease that may get worse over time and It’s the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in people over age 60. It happens when the small central portion of your retina, called the macula, wears down.

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition that affects the middle part of your vision. It usually first affects people in their 50s and 60s.
  • It doesn’t cause total blindness. But it can make everyday activities like reading and recognising faces difficult.
  • Without treatment, your vision may get worse. This can happen gradually over several years (“dry AMD”), or quickly over a few weeks or months (“wet AMD”).
  • The exact cause is unknown. It’s been linked to smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight and having a family history of AMD.

Treatment depends on the type of AMD you have:

  • Dry AMD — there’s no treatment, but vision aids can help reduce the effect on your life. Read about living with AMD.
  • Wet AMD — you may need regular eye injections and, very occasionally, a light treatment called “photodynamic therapy” to stop your vision getting worse.

Lifestyle has an impact!

Eating a healthy balanced diet can reduce your risk of developing common eye conditions. Nutritional Epidemiological studies are mostly in favour of a protective role of antioxidants (vitamins C, E and Zinc) for AMD. The retina is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress because of the high level of in-site reactive oxygen species production, due in particular to light exposure and high metabolic activity.

There are a few available epidemiological studies that suggest a protective role of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin in AMD, but more studies are needed in this field. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the most common xanthophylls in green leafy vegetables (e.g.kale, spinach, broccoli, peas and lettuce) and egg yolks.

Finally available epidemiological studies strongly suggest a reduced risk for AMD in subjects with high consumption of long chain omega 3 fatty acids and fish. Source

Exercise for Eyes? No Really!

Think of exercise bringing more oxygen into the body. The eyes need oxygen to stay healthy and comfortable. Growing scientific evidence suggests that aerobic exercise can increase crucial oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and reduce pressure in the eye. Reducing intraocular ‘eye’ pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension. Aerobic exercise can also prevent the progression of diabetes, which in severe cases can lead to diabetic retinopathy. Finally drink plenty of water and have regular eye examinations. Source

AMD and Menopause

In this study from 2012 the estimated number of cases of late AMD were 60% higher in women versus men (314, 000 cases in women, 192, 000 men). Source

Who knew that the far reaching effects of oestrogen in the body could include the health of your eyes? But this recent study found that HRT may have a beneficial effect on the eye and its associated structures.

It was found that HRT may relieve dry eye symptoms in post-menopausal women, also that it could decrease the intraocular pressure and may delay cataract formation. But most importantly HRT may play a role in decreasing the incidence of AMD in post-menopausal women. Source

HRT not on your Radar?

Perhaps you are precluded from taking HRT on health grounds? So let’s remind ourselves of some of the main nutritional sources.

Oestrogens are the most ancient of hormones; present in human beings, plants and animals. You may well have heard of plant oestrogens or Phytoestrogens. Plant sources are much milder and thus have more gentle effects. So can a diet high in phytoestrogens go some way to replace depleted oestrogens of menopause? Anecdotally the lack of reporting of menopausal symptoms amongst Japanese women suggests this may be a possibility. Is it a cultural issue, is it a genetic link or could it be due to high levels of consumption of the isoflavones in soy. It is worth noting that not all Soy is equal. Much of the soy produced in the west is genetically modified and unfortunately not as beneficial as its cousin from the East.

But have you heard of Lignans? Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen found in plants, commonly consumed in the mediterranean region. Key sources of Lignans include sesame, flax, dried apricots, legumes especially chickpeas, whole grains, vegetables and fruits such as strawberries, melon cantaloupe.

Say yes to the mediterranean way of eating where fish is eaten more regularly and meat and dairy are considered to be more of an occasional treat. Remember that diversity is key to health; eat a rainbow and ditch processed foods.

Moving through Menopause Podcast: All about Eyes

If you ever wondered what is happening to our eyes as we age and even if you didn’t! I was privileged to have a chat with Optometrist Bansi Dhamecha. Bansi is the Director of Optotutor, she is passionate about eye health and brim full of fascinating facts. Have a listen for some excellent advice and some fun as always. Grab your ear buds and get some air or sit down with a cuppa and look away from your screens!


Phillipa Butler

Chartered Physiotherapist. Passionate about movement as medicine. Using pilates and yoga to mitigate the symptoms of the menopause.

Contact Phillipa

Pilates for Menopause for Massage Therapists and Manual Therapists  - NAT Diploma Course with Precizion 10 CEUs

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