Cataract Awareness Month: Can exercise reduce your risk of cataracts?

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We exercise to maintain a healthy weight, prevent cardiovascular disease and lower our cholesterol, but how many of us exercise for our eye health? A recent study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology showed that taking part in regular physical exercise, such as walking or cycling, significantly reduced the risk of age-related cataracts by 10 percent.

Lack of exercise may be one of those risk factors you can change to decrease your risk of developing cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye, and they can begin to develop in your 40s and 50s. With June serving as Cataract Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to review the signs of cataracts and ways to reduce your risk of cataracts.

Physical Exercise Linked to Cataracts

Carried out by researchers from Xi'an Jiaotong University, China, and the University of South Australia (UniSA), Australia, the new study included data from six previous studies which had investigated how exercise reduces oxidative damage in the eye. The studies included a total of 171,620 participants, who were followed for between six and 12 years, and 19,173 cases of age-related cataracts. The researchers found that for every hour of cycling or walking per day, the risk of developing cataracts could potentially be reduced by two percent.

Exactly how does exercise achieve these benefits in your eyes? Physical exercise increases the activity of our antioxidant enzymes resulting in less breakdown and clouding of our natural lens. Increased physical activity also increases our HDL, our good cholesterol, which assists in transporting antioxidants throughout the body including our natural lens. In addition to exercise, diet plays a key role as well. Increasing our intake of vitamin A, E and C will help maintain eye health.

The Signs of Cataracts

Cataracts, despite being one of the most common eye diseases in the world, often go unnoticed at first due to the lack of pain and subtle loss of sight. The seven signs of cataracts show the importance of cataract awareness and monitoring eye health: cloudy or blurry vision, decreased color perception, sensitivity to light and glare, difficulty driving at night, trouble reading the fine print, double vision and frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens perception.

Worsening cataracts have been shown to increase fall risk and contribute to increase risk of car accidents. We recommend that patients age 60 and older have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataract, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders.

New Technology and Cataract Surgery Options

The technology for cataract surgery has improved tremendously in recent years, so it’s important to discuss your options with your eye surgeon. The femtosecond laser, for example, provides a highly effective laser assisted cataract surgery reducing energy, fluid, and time during cataract surgery and resulting in a gentler procedure. The laser also contributes to a more precise and accurate outcome. Advances in lens technology also allows the surgeon to correct a wide range of vision problems, including astigmatism, far and near sightedness at the time of cataract surgery. Newer trifocal implants can restore full range vision.

If cataracts are impacting your daily life, you don’t need to live with impaired vision or wait for surgery. Make an appointment with a cataract consultant today.

  1. Akbar Hasan, M.D., is a Ponte Vedra Beach resident and ophthalmologist at Florida Eye Specialists, the first practice in Northeast Florida to introduce laser cataract surgery. For more information on Dr. Hasan and his specialty treating cataracts, visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com.

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