Eye Health

06 September 2012

Vision loss predicts less physical activity

People whose vision has deteriorated in both eyes are less physically active than people without vision loss.


People whose vision has deteriorated in both eyes are less physically active than people without vision loss, according to a new study. The results are a reminder that it's important to help people with vision loss regain activity safely, say the study's authors.

It's not clear from the study if the loss of vision is leading to less activity or if inactivity contributes to vision loss.

Dr Pradeep Ramulu, the senior author of the study, said it's possible it could work both ways, but "I think the answer is probably falls or fear of falling."

How the research was done

Dr Ramulu and his colleagues have observed in an earlier study that people with vision loss drive less, and they wanted to see whether they also get around less in physical ways.

The group looked to data from a large national study that surveyed adults over age 40 on their health and lifestyle.

More than 1400 people in the study also underwent visual field exams and wore an accelerometer on a belt for a week to measure how many steps a day they took.

In the study, published online in Ophthalmology, the threshold for having vision loss was being unable to see at least two out of 19 objects presented in various locations of their peripheral vision.

The researchers found that 88 people had vision loss in one eye and 59 had vision loss in both eyes.

People with good vision took about 9 700 steps each day and exercised at a moderate or vigorous level for 20 minutes. Those who had vision loss in one eye walked 8000 steps each day and exercised about 15 minutes. People with vision loss in both eyes took 6800 steps each day and exercised for 10 minutes.

Complexed to be active

When the researchers took into account factors that could influence how much people move, such as age and illness, they found that vision loss in both eyes was tied to 17% fewer steps per day and 30% less activity compared to no vision loss.

Taking into account these other factors also showed that people with vision loss in only one eye were just as active as people without any vision loss.

"What we found was the impact of vision was very substantial compared to other diseases," Dr Ramulu said.

For instance, he found that people with diabetes had about the same amount of reduction in their physical activity as people with vision loss in both eyes.

Dr James Rimmer, the research director at the Lakeshore Foundation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who was not involved in this study, said the study "supports what we've known for a while, and that is that people who have physical, cognitive or sensory disabilities have lower rates of physical activity."

"When one loses more and more vision there's just more restrictions in the built environment. Streets become harder to navigate; walkways and paths often have obstacles and difficult terrain. So it just adds to the complexity of trying to be physically active," he said.

(Reuters Health, September 2012)

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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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