When the topics of “diet” and “exercise,” are mentioned, images of shedding unwanted pounds and building up weak muscles tend to come to mind. What goes overlooked is the impact that both these actions have on your eyes. The foods you include in your diet (or the foods you neglect to include) can have a major say in the long-term health of your vision. Likewise, certain exercises can be employed to keep your eyes in relatively good standing.
Vision Problems by the Numbers
One of the problems commonly associated with aging is declining vision, an issue that becomes especially pronounced after the age of 40. As the following statistics illustrate, the eyes of millions of Americans are stricken with burdensome diseases and afflictions. This data comes courtesy of a joint study between the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America, the largest volunteer eye health and safety foundation in the US.
- Over 2 million Americans aged 50 and older have macular degeneration, which slowly causes loss of central vision (central vision refers to the patient’s range of vision when looking straight ahead). This figure represents a 25 percent increase from the year 2000.
- Approximately 24.4 million Americans aged 40+ have cataracts, a 19 percent jump from 2000 to 2012. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded with built-up proteins.
- The incidence of glaucoma, a disease in which the optic nerve is hindered by pressure within the eye, increased 22 percent in those aged 40 and over since 2000. 2.7 million Americans in this age group now have glaucoma.
- The largest increase for an eye-related disease belonged to diabetic retinopathy, which spiked 89 percent in people aged 40 and above over the last twelve years. 7.7 million Americans in this category have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, which attacks small blood vessels in the retina.
Foods for Eye Health
If you’re looking for a strategy to preserve your eye health well into your adult years, your local grocery store might be a good place to start. A good number of well known foods are loaded with eye-boosting nutrients.
Leafy Green Vegetables – Foods that meet the criteria as “leafy greens” shouldn’t be too hard to spot; veggies that qualify include spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage and both red and green leaf lettuce. These veggies are rife with lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that can prevent damage to the retina. As an added bonus, eating leafy greens is a great way to get the recommended amounts of vitamins A, C and B-12, all of which promote eye health.
Fish – Fish is a great source of protein, and it doesn’t carry the same baggage as other meats (i.e. high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol). What you probably didn’t realize, however, is that picking up some tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines is good for your vision. Fish are renowned for their omega-3 fatty acids, which may help block the development of glaucoma and macular degeneration. Fish are also rich sources of vitamins A and D, which are used by the body to keep your retinas in good shape.
Berries – Whatever your favorite type of berry is – and between strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and blueberries, there are quite a few options – it’s safe to say that it’s packed with vitamin C. Just a half cup of strawberries, for example, provides 74% of your daily vitamin C requirement.
Carrots – Carrots have long been associated with improved eye health, though some have disputed this connection. So is this story true, or just another food-related myth? As it turns out, your mom was right in urging you to eat carrots. Among other nutrients, this bestselling root veggie contains a significant amount of beta carotene, a potent antioxidant that helps ward off macular degeneration and cataracts.
Sweet Potatoes – If you’re not an especially big fan of carrots, then you can also get beta carotene from sweet potatoes. Adding this brownish-orange plant to your diet is also a great way to up your intake of vitamins A and C.
Exercises for Your Eyes
Exercise isn’t just for your muscles; certain physical activities can also strengthen your eyes and enhance your vision.
The Letter Gaze – All it takes to perform the “letter gaze” exercise is a pencil and a bit of patience. Begin by sitting down on a chair or couch, making sure to keep proper posture while sitting. Take your pencil and hold it arms-length in front of your face. Pick a letter and zero in on it; stay locked onto this letter as you bring the pencil closer to your nose. When you can no longer see your letter, reverse course and move the pencil back to its starting point. Ten to fifteen repetitions should be enough to strengthen your eyes.
Looking Around the Room – This one may seem ridiculously easy, but there’s a bit of a catch – you can only move your eyes, and your head must remain locked in position. As with the pencil exercise, this activity should be performed from the comfort of a chair (remember not to slouch!). Start by moving your eyes upward as far as possible; hold this position for a few seconds. With this done, shift your gaze to the right. After staring to the right for 2 to 3 seconds, continue moving in a clockwise fashion, gazing downward and then to the left. For best results, aim for two to three repetitions of this exercise.
Focusing on Far Away Objects – This next exercise is tailor-made for those stuck working behind computer monitors for hours on end. During your lunch break, try stepping outside for a few minutes. Concentrate on an object that is far off in the horizon. Spend roughly ten seconds staring at this object, and then quickly shift your focus to something only three to five feet away. Immediately after spotting this nearby item, try and look at an object midway between your first and second targets. Stare at this mid-range item for about ten seconds. Repeat this process until you have done ten repetitions; this activity can be performed twice per day.