Eye Health

Updated 15 February 2016

Exercise protects eyes from glaucoma

A physically active lifestyle may help protect your eyes from glaucoma, according to a new study.

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A physically active lifestyle may help protect your eyes from glaucoma, according to a new study.

Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness, typically develops when fluid pressure inside the eye rises and damages the optic nerve.

In this study, researchers looked at the association between physical activity and eye pressure in 5,650 men and women aged 48 to 90 in Britain. The participants were evaluated between 1993 and 1997 and again between 2006 and 2010. Based on information they provided about their work and leisure time physical activity, they were categorized as inactive, moderately inactive, moderately active or active. Their eye pressure was tracked over the years.

The study found that moderate physical exercise performed about 15 years previously was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk of low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP), an important risk factor for glaucoma.

The study appears in the October issue of the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

"It appears that OPP is largely determined by cardiovascular fitness," author Dr. Paul Foster, of the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology, said in a journal news release. "We cannot comment on the cause, but there is certainly an association between a sedentary lifestyle and factors which increase glaucoma risk."

A large number of previous studies have examined the effect of physical activity on the two components of OPP -- intraocular pressure [IOP] and on blood pressure -- but this is the first study to look at the association between physical activity and OPP, according to the researchers.

"Before now, the only modifiable risk factor for glaucoma was IOP, altered by medication, laser or surgery," Foster said. "We believe our study points toward a new way of reducing glaucoma risk, through maintaining an active lifestyle. This is a way that people can participate in altering their risk of glaucoma and many other serious health problems."

The authors acknowledged that more research is needed before anyone can rely on exercise to prevent or treat glaucoma.

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Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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