Macular Degeneration Maintenance: Off the Couch, Save Your Eyes

Macular Degeneration Maintenance: Off the Couch, Save Your Eyes

In a conveniently packaged society it is easy to stay plugged in and shuttered away forgetting all about outside options that may enhance your health. It turns out that many studies validate the overall systemic health benefits of spending time outdoors including how it could be advantageous to your vision.

In one study by the School of Applied Vision Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia which was published in Ophthalmology 8/08, it was concluded that,

“Higher levels of total time spent outdoors, rather than sport per se, were associated with less myopia [nearsightedness]…”

Now there is some evidence that outdoor activity, either connecting with nature or strolling through city streets, could be a maintenance tool that may help prevent or slow macular degeneration as well.

Light It Up

Natural light reflecting off objects like trees, water, windows and various colors helps challenge vision more efficiently than interior light. Experiencing this change in light structure could help challenge macular degeneration.

Because ultraviolet (UV) light is linked to weakening or acting as one of the causes for macular degeneration it is essential to wear certified UV blocking sunglasses when you go outside. However, with a sunglass safety barrier you can offer your eyes the exercise of following natural light’s unpredictable dance. By challenging the surrounding eye musculature, the macula can “stay in shape” supporting healthier vision.

Even taking off your sunglasses for small periods of time may enhance cellular response. Some believe that a renowned past study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology 3/82 which concluded that UV light causes irreparable damage to rods and cones of the eye is skewed. It turns out that the UV exposure administered to monkeys was direct and for long periods at a time. Basic exposure to humans isn’t nearly as intense as this study.

Some researchers refer to another past study conducted by Dr. John Ott and Dr. Irving Leopold which showed that retinal pigment epithelial cells would not divide unless exposed to natural UV light for short periods. This suggests that lack of UV light could be a cause of macular degeneration.

Therefore, talk to your doctor about going outside and taking interludes of ten to fifteen minutes watching light on the landscape without sunglasses, glasses, or contacts.

Distance Testers

Another way you might be able to strengthen your vision and challenge macular degeneration progression is by spending time outside viewing distant objects.

Eye health researcher, Associate Professor Scott Read from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) cites some benefits of outdoor activity and eye health,

“There’s two known benefits to being outside in today’s world – it gives your eyes a chance to focus on things further away and have a rest from close-up work, and it also exposes our eyes to brighter outdoor light which appears to reduce our risks of developing short-sightedness,”

Focusing on distance forces your eye muscles to work harder which, in turn, may enhance eye health. As you stroll outside there is no need to consciously focus on distant objects as it will happen naturally. This is another validation of the importance of getting outside for overall health.

Move It or Lose It

Getting off the couch and into the outdoors is a good start at improving your vision, including coping with or preventing macular degeneration. In addition, it is recommended to also exercise whenever possible.

Doing outdoor cardiovascular and strength training exercises showed to increase the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF contributes to the health and well being of essential neurons including those found in the retina, ground zero for macular degeneration.

Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience titled ‘Aerobic Exercise Protects Retinal Function and Structure from Light-Induced Retinal Degeneration’ concluded that,

“In this study we tested the protective effects of aerobic exercise on the neural retina. We found that aerobic treadmill exercise performed 2 weeks before and 1 or 2 weeks after toxic bright light exposure protected retinal function and structure.”

Jeffrey Boatright, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine and a co-author of the study commented to the New York Times,

“…these experiments strongly suggest that, “exercise protects vision, at least in mice, by increasing B.D.N.F. in the retina,…eye researchers have been trying for some time to find a way to externally deliver growth factors or drugs to aging eyes, but the available methods typically involve injections into the retina, a process that is complicated, chancy, pricey, and fundamentally objectionable. Now, though, “it’s beginning to look like we may have this other method” — exercise — “that costs almost nothing and results in you making your own growth factors, which is so much safer and more pleasant than having a needle stuck into your eyeball,”

Try adding a good aerobic exercise routine to your daily outdoor activity. If you desire, eventually incorporating strength training such as pushups, jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups or even light weight lifting can also benefit vision health.

Break it Up

Now that you know outdoor activity can be beneficial to macular degeneration maintenance it is important to remain vigilant regarding essential times to simply stop and take a walk.

A majority of people deal with constant close vision activity while doing their job. If this is you or you find yourself indoors more often than not staring at a computer, television or smartphone screen then you will definitely want to force yourself to break it up. This means that if you can step out of your office or home for fifteen minutes (or more) at least three times per day you will be doing your vision a great service. It will allow all the things mentioned above including a break from the rigors of sustained screen exposure.

Other countries are already realizing the benefits of outdoor activity on vision such as China’s education officials demanding schoolchildren stop and exercise their eyes twice a day in response to 76% of lower middle school students being afflicted with myopia.

Take initiative when it comes to your vision and get outside to keep it exercised. It is small steps like these that may make a huge difference. If you already suffer with macular degeneration it is more important than ever to push aside feelings of despair and live your life outside of a potentially sheltered existence.