by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health
As you get older, you may be OK with the fact that your vision just isnât what it used to be. But losing sight altogether is something that nobody — myself included — ever wants to imagine. Thatâs why I was pleased when I heard that there may be a simple new way to prevent glaucoma. Because itâs something that anybody can do — exercise!
The new study, published in the October issue of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, came from University College London Institute of Ophthalmology in England. To learn more, I called an expert who carefully examined the study, Harry A. Quigley, MD, an ophthalmologist, the director of the Glaucoma Center of Excellence at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and author of Glaucoma: What Every Patient Should Know.
Before we jumped into the research, Dr. Quigley gave me some background about how glaucoma develops. In glaucoma, there is slow, progressive damage to the optic nerve that can gradually lead to blindness if not treated. About 90% of glaucoma cases, he told me, are called open-angle. The scariest part about open-angle glaucoma is that there are no symptoms until irreversible damage happens, so if the person doesnât get regular eye exams, then he wonât realize that he has glaucoma until blindness begins to set in. Some people who develop glaucoma (but not all) have whatâs called high intraocular pressure (IOP), which is pressure in the eye.
This new study, Dr. Quigley told me, focused on a measurement of something called ophthalmic perfusion pressure (OPP), which is the difference between your blood pressure and your IOP. So if your IOP is low, as you want it to be, then your OPP is higher (better). That means that your eyes are probably receiving more nourishing blood. But when your OPP is low, it means that circulation to and in the eyes is slowing — which could raise your risk for glaucoma or worsen existing glaucoma. Keep in mind, said Dr. Quigley, that you can have a low OPP from either higher-than-normal IOP or lower-than-normal blood pressure (or both).
Researchers investigated the relationship between physical activity and OPP. They looked at self-reported information from 5,650 adult men and women from about 15 years ago. Participants were grouped into one of two categories — “active” or “less active.” Researchers cross-referenced each participantâs level of physical activity with a measurement of OPP that was taken from the same people between 2006 and 2010.
Results: Participants who had been “active” in the past had a 25% lower risk of having low OPP — suggesting that they also had a lower risk of later developing glaucoma. What is especially uplifting about this discovery is that unlike taking drugs or having surgery, there is little risk involved in being active and exercising — and it provides many other benefits that are well-documented!
IMPROVED CIRCULATION = IMPROVED EYE HEALTH
Now, of course, we all already know that exercise is, well, out of sight, but I found it intriguing that just someoneâs general level of activity, as opposed to some fancy specific eye exercises, can have such a pronounced effect on your eye health. Dr. Quigley noted that exercise improves overall circulation, which brings better blood flow everywhere, including to the eyes. And, he added, this doesnât mean that you have to hit the gym for vigorous workouts — moderate activity, such as brisk walking that raises your heart rate for 20 minutes, is sufficient as long as you do it most days of the week.
Besides moving around more, donât forget to see an eye doctor regularly. Dr. Quigley advises everyone to start getting exams from an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who can provide the full spectrum of eye care) at age 40, and depending on what your doctor advises, probably at least every one to two years after that. When you reach age 60, he said, you should get an eye exam annually, because age is a risk factor for glaucoma. And, he added, “Itâs especially critical for those with a family history of glaucoma, those who are of certain ethnic origins (African American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit and Scandinavian) and/or those who are severely nearsighted, because these are also risk factors.”
Harry A. Quigley, MD, director of the Glaucoma Center of Excellence at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.