CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most of us decide to exercise to manage our weight and look better. But exercise offers far more benefits than just helping us fit into our jeans. While looking better is not a bad reason to stay active, seeing better just may offer greater motivation. That's right, keeping your body in motion can have wonderful effects on your sight.
As people age, one of the most prevalent eye diseases is glaucoma. Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. And, because there may be no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, about half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.
With glaucoma fluid pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure, or IOP) increases causing irreversible damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision. If you have glaucoma, you should know that going for a brisk walk three to four times a week may protect against progression of the disease.
How can exercise help?
"Aerobic exercise is known to lower intraocular pressure, which we know protects retinal ganglion cells," says Dr. Harry A. Quigley, professor and director of glaucoma services at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "And short-term studies show it may improve blood flow to the retina and optic nerve as well."
These studies also say you don't have to exercise vigorously. In fact, IOP can be lowered by exercise that increases your pulse by 20 percent to 25 percent for 20 minutes.
What exercise is best?
Overall, aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging and swimming have been found to lower IOP. However, weightlifting, such as leg presses and chest presses, also was able to decrease the IOP. It is important to note that while jogging and weight training studies were conducted in healthy, athletic people without glaucoma, exercise also has been found to benefit sedentary people with ocular hypertension. For example, three months of moderate exercise for nine sedentary people suspected of having glaucoma decreased the fluid pressure inside the eye by about 20 percent.
If you are inactive, there is no need to start a vigorous exercise program. Going for a walk is a perfect way to begin and then progress as you adapt and get stronger. Here's the catch, though: The benefits of physical activity continue only as long as you remain active. Once you stop, the benefits go away. In one study of sedentary glaucoma patients, it only took three weeks of inactivity to undo the effects.