Healthy Body, Healthy Eyes

Colour picture of two people running in the woodsNot only will regular exercise make you look great, it could benefit your eyes in the long run as well.

But don’t worry about not measuring up for the next “Iron Man” event: by introducing even a moderate amount of exercise into your routine each day – a brisk walk or wheel to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or a bike ride with the kids - you can significantly improve your overall health, your sense of well-being and your quality of life.

Cardio for Cardio

First of all, exercise helps to strengthen your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, meaning the circulation of blood through your heart and blood vessels. Exercising lowers the buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in your arteries, helping the blood to flow more smoothly and efficiently through them. Your eyes are full of tiny blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, and exercise may help “unclog the pipes” to deliver the goods more effectively and keep the eyes healthier.

Blood Pressure: Bring it on Down

While studies show that aerobic exercise can lower intraocular pressure, other forms of exercise can increase intraocular pressure. So if you're a glaucoma patient, it's especially important to check with your doctor before making any lifestyle changes. An additional note of caution here, weightlifting in particular has been linked to a rise in intraocular pressure (the pressure inside your eyeball). If you are at risk for glaucoma, consult with your eye care professional before beginning a weightlifting program. For more information, read about weightlifting and eye pressure.

Taming the Sugar Monster

Food for Thought – and Sight

A healthy diet, particularly a diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, C and E, can also be beneficial for your eyes. In 2001, the National Eye Institute released the results of its AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) which showed that high-dose antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E, plus the minerals copper and zinc, reduced the risk of progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 25 per cent, and the risk of moderate vision loss by 19 per cent. Vitamins C and E may also help reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

These three vitamins can be found naturally in brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, peas, oranges, kiwis, dried apricots, tomatoes and leafy greens, as well as in nuts, seeds, dairy products and eggs. As summer approaches and these foods are more abundant, why not tickle your taste buds with a crunchy summer salad, pair up that grilled steak with some barbecued peppers, or try starting your day with a refreshing breakfast smoothie made with frozen yogurt and fresh mango chunks? Add new foods one by one, and let finicky kids help choose and prepare them, and soon better nutrition will be second nature to you and your family. It’s important to note here that it would be almost impossible to eat enough fruits and vegetables to deliver the amount recommended in the AREDS study. In addition, some over-the-counter vitamins – especially vitamin A - can be toxic in large doses. If you have AMD and are interested in vitamin supplements, consult your eye doctor to determine the dosage that is appropriate for you.

It’s certainly no secret that exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce your weight – and with it, your risk of Type II diabetes. “Diabetes can have a huge effect on the eyes,” says Tanya Dawe, a Low Vision Specialist with CNIB. “Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication of that disease, and can lead to vision loss and blindness. “Diabetes risks can be lowered significantly through a healthy diet and exercise,” she says.

Don’t Go Overboard

Similarly, add exercise to your routine a bit at a time: you don’t have to run 20k your first time out or be the new star of the wheelchair basketball team. And be sure to consult with your doctor before undertaking any new or strenuous exercises, to make sure there aren’t any underlying health concerns.

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

Most of all, enjoy yourself: pick an activity you like, do it regularly, and walk, run, ride, swim, wheel or dance your way to a sleeker body, improved self-confidence and better overall health and well-being.