Study Suggests Exercise Helps Prevent Eye Disease

Published: August 27, 2021

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A study at the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests that regular exercise can prevent or slow the development of macular degeneration. Furthermore, the study indicates that exercise may also be protective against other types of vision loss, including diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.(1)

The study showed that exercise reduced the “harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45%.” This overgrowth of blood vessels contributes to age-related macular degeneration  and other eye conditions, as well.(2)

This is how the study worked: The laboratory mice were divided into two groups. One group had access to an exercise wheel, and the other did not. “After four weeks, researchers treated the mouse eyes with lasers to simulate the changes that occur in humans with age-related vision loss.” The physically active mice showed close to 45% less eye damage than the mice that had not exercised.(3)

Researchers are not sure how exercise prevents the blood vessel growth. One theory is that the increased blood flow to the eyes (during exercise) may be involved.(2)

One of the lead researchers of the study, Bradley Gelfand, said that vision loss and a decrease in activity and exercise often occur at about the same time in patients. “It is fairly well known that as people’s eyes and vision deteriorate, their tendency to engage in physical activity also goes down. It can be a challenging thing to study in older people. … How much of that is one causing the other?”(2)

Gelfand said the next step in the research is to determine why exercise seems to help. Considering that the people who get AMD are elderly and may not be able to begin an exercise regimen, researchers hope that perhaps a medicine could be developed that would provide the same benefit as exercise.(1)

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(1) Science Daily, 2020, Exercise Can Slow or Prevent Vision Loss, Study Finds, https://www.sciencedaily.com/

(2) Barney, J., UVA Study Suggests Exercise Can Slow or Prevent Vision Loss, https://news.virginia.edu/

(3) Mukamel, R., 2020, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Exercise May Stave Off Eye Disease, https://www.aao.org/