Exercise could reduce your risk of glaucoma, new research suggests. While we have known for years that the crippling eye disease is connected to blood flow, scientists have struggled to explain how and how to prevent it.
But now a study by the University of California, Los Angeles, has found evidence of a correlation between physical activity and lower glaucoma rates.
In fact, those who exercised more often and more vigorously reported a 73 percent lower risk of developing the condition than people who never exercised.
Experts say that although the new study is merely a hypothesis based on self-reported symptoms it opens a door to exploring concrete measures for preventing vision loss.
Glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness according to the World Health Organization, is one of the perilous disease that will affect around 61 millions Americans in their lifetime.
It can affect peripheral sight, usually due to build up of pressure damaging the optic nerve, the vital link between the eye and brain.
The eyeball contains a fluid called aqueous humor which is constantly produced by the eye, with any excess drained though tubes.
Glaucoma develops when the fluid cannot drain properly and pressure builds up, known as the intraocular pressure. While it often affects both eyes, one eye may develop glaucoma quicker than the other.
Currently, glaucoma is treated with eye drops, laser treatment or surgery – but this is only effective if spotted early since any damage to the eyes cannot be reversed and could cause visual impairment or even blindness.
But beyond early detection, Dr Victoria Tseng, of UCLA’s ophthalmology department, wanted to investigate whether we could find lifestyle habits that curb the risk of developing the disease, primarily focusing on exercise.
Her team looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a large study that has tracked the health and nutritional status of adults in the United States since the 1960s.
They broke the data down into various groups, based on levels of physical activity (minimal, moderate and vigorous).
They did this based on walking speed and the number of steps taken per minute as measured by a pedometer.
The baseline as recommended by the American Heart Association is 30 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least five days a week, which equates to taking 7,000 steps a day, every day of the week.
By the end, they found a clear correlation between lower glaucoma risk and higher rates of physical activity.
The researchers found that for each 10-unit increase in walking speed and number of steps taken per minute, glaucoma risk decreased by six percent.
For each 10-minute increase in moderate-to-vigorous activity per week, glaucoma risk decreased 25 percent.
Lead author Dr Tseng told Daily Mail Online the study connects the dots of various studies which have looked at blood flow and eye disease but not found how lifestyle factors exacerbate that connection.
‘This is just a hypothesis, we need to take this into a lab. But it was something that we hadn’t seen before,’ she said.
It makes sense: when you exercise your blood flow changes, and medics of all fields recommend exercise in general to improve longevity and decrease risk of all diseases.
The surprising aspect of Dr Tseng’s research was the correlation between increased activity and lower disease risk.
‘Our research suggests that it is not only the act of exercising that may be associated with decreased glaucoma risk, but that people who exercise with higher speed and more steps of walking or running may even further decrease their glaucoma risk compared to people who exercise at lower speeds with less steps,’ she explained.
However, Dr Tseng cautioned that she will not be advising her patients to sign up to CrossFit or an intensive month of yoga just yet.
‘We don’t know exactly what kind of exercise decreases glaucoma risk and how. And there are studies that show some things like doing a yoga headstand can put damaging pressure on the eye. But I would recommend general day to day exercise to everyone.’