Exercise Can Help Protect Your Eyes from Vision Loss

Exercise Can Help Protect Your Eyes from Vision Loss
Find out how regular physical activity may be able to help individuals from experiencing age-related vision loss. Learn what scientific evidence provides.



Age-related vision loss can be devastating, but it is also very common. Fortunately for those at risk of losing their eyesight, there is a research that is suggesting that physical activity might actually be able to protect the eyes as people age.

There have been quite a number of suggestions that denotes how physical exercise can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration, which happens when neurons in the middle part of the retina begin to deteriorate. This particular disease affects millions of older Americans, robbing them of a clear vision. A study conducted in 2009 involving over 40,000 middle-aged distance runners has found that runners who covered more mileage had the lowest chances of developing the disease. Its usefulness, though, was limited to runners only, and excluded non-runners. It was also lacking in detailed information on how physical exercise such as distance running can lower the incidence of an eye disease.

To address the limitations of the aforementioned study but welcome its promising findings, researchers from Atlanta’s Emory University made it a point to address the question on the link between exercise and healthier eyes. Their study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience just recently and was inspired in part by animal research at the Atlanta’s Veteran Affairs Medical Center. The research work was able to determine how exercising increases the levels of substances, called growth factors, in the bloodstream and brains of the tested animals.

These growth factors, particularly the brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), are known for its contribution to the health of neurons and to significant improvements in brain health and cognition, which is more evident after regular exercise. Since the brain is not the only body part to contain neurons, as the retina also has plenty of them, the researchers wanted to find out whether exercise might also raise levels of BDNF in the neurons of the retina and improve retinal health and vision as well.


The researchers gathered healthy adult lab mice, where half of the population remained sedentary throughout the day, while the other half started to run on little treadmills at a slow rodent pace that lasted for an hour a day. In two weeks’ time, half of the mice population in each group was exposed to bright light for four hours, while the remainder of the animals stayed in dim cages. The light exposure is essential as it is a widely used method for inducing retinal degeneration in animals, causing a comparable loss of retinal neurons. The mice were then placed back to their former routines, either running or just remaining sedentary, for an additional two weeks. The scientists then measured the number of neurons in each of the animals’ eyes.


They found out that the mice that did not engage in regular exercise, after being exposed to bright light, has experienced severe retinal degeneration. An astounding 75 percent of the neurons in their retinas that were responsible for detecting light had died, causing the animals’ vision to fail. On the other hand, the mice that were exercising prior to the light exposure were able to retain double the number of the functioning retinal neurons as those that did not exercise. The remaining cells of the active mice were also more responsive to normal light than the remaining retinal neurons in the sedentary mice. Exercise, based on the research, had protected the retinas of the more active mice.

While this study seems to be really promising, it is too early to tell whether it would garner the same results when applied to humans. It might still be worth giving it a try, as exercising has always been a crucial aspect of a healthy body and mind. If you are concerned about your vision, or have a family history of retinal degeneration, then you might want to discuss an exercise program with your physician. Visit http://www.arizonaretinalspecialists.com/ for more eye-related articles or to know more about eye health.


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