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  • Could Exercise Help Prevent Eye Damage?

    Published Jul. 13, 2023

    The takeaway: A small study in mice hints that exercise may protect against an overgrowth of blood vessels that occurs in eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It’s not clear if exercise protects against certain eye diseases in humans. Large clinical studies must show this effect in people before doctors can recommend exercise as an inexpensive, self-managed way to reduce the risk of eye conditions such as AMD, a leading cause of vision loss among people 50 or older.

    Regular exercise can slim your waistline and lift your mood. Now, a small study in mice hints that exercise may also help guard against eye damage.

    Whether this finding will hold up in humans is unclear. But some researchers are cautiously optimistic because the results are consistent with past studies showing the benefits of exercise in people.

    “The new study is exciting because it supports previous findings suggesting a link between exercise and prevention of AMD,” said ophthalmologist and Academy spokesperson J. Kevin McKinney, MD, MPH.

    Past studies in people have suggested that exercise may help prevent serious eye diseases such as AMD. The new study is interesting, researchers say, because rather than relying on people to self-report their exercise, it directly examines how physical activity changes cells and tissues in the mouse eye.

    Exercise may promote healthy blood vessels in the eye

    Researchers studied two groups of 6 mice: One group had access to an exercise wheel while the other group did not. After four weeks, the researchers treated the mouse eye with lasers to simulate the changes that occur in humans with age-related vision loss. After this treatment, physically active mice had up to 45% less eye damage than nonactive mice.

    The study suggests that exercise may protect against an overgrowth of blood vessels that occurs in eye conditions such as AMD.

    Regular physical activity could promote eye health

    Scientists are still working to understand how exercise protects the human eye. Their discoveries could unlock treatments for a number of eye conditions.

    If you already have an eye disease, exercise may help you manage it better. One study found that people who engaged in moderate physical exercise were less likely than inactive people to develop glaucoma. Physical activity can also help people with diabetes keep their disease under control. That reduces the risk of complications, including diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of vision loss among working age adults.

    How much should I exercise?

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association all recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. That’s equivalent to about 30 minutes per day, five days per week. This can include walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even active gardening. Consistent physical activity can help you and your eyes stay healthy.