Glaucoma risk and retinal degeneration progression can be reduced with physical fitness and aerobic exercise. The study findings revealed that exercise may have long-term positive impact on low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP), which is a risk factor for glaucoma.
The researchers examined the relationship between physical activity and OPP among 5,650 men and women. The participants were evaluated on their physical activity levels with detailed self-administered health and lifestyle questionnaires. Intraocular (eye) pressure and blood pressure were also checked. The results showed that physical exercise performed 15 years prior is associated with a 25 percent lower risk of low OPP.
First author Paul J. Foster said, “It appears that OPP is largely determined by cardiovascular fitness. We cannot comment on the cause, but there is certainly an association between a sedentary lifestyle and factors which increase glaucoma risk.”
“Before now, the only modifiable risk factor for glaucoma was IOP [intraocular pressure], altered by medication, laser, or surgery. 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,” Foster concluded.
It’s important to note that not all forms of physical activity are beneficial for glaucoma. Case in point: Yoga. Certain yoga positions may impact eye pressure in glaucoma patients, according to research. Positions where the head is upside down (downward dog, for example) can increase eye discomfort in glaucoma patients.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and can impact a person’s quality of life. The increase of fluid pressure in the eye can lead to the optic nerve damage, so minimizing fluid pressure can also work to reduce the risk of blindness.
“While we encourage our patients to live active and healthy lifestyles, including physical exercise, certain types of activities, including pushups and lifting heavy weights, should be avoided by glaucoma patients due to the risk of increasing IOP and possibly damaging the optic nerve,” study author Robert Ritch explained. “This new study will help clinicians advise their patients on the potential risk associated with various yoga positions and other exercises that involve inverted poses.”
Alternative studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise slows the progression of retinal degenerative diseases. For the study, the researchers ran mice on treadmills for two weeks before and after exposing the animals to bright lights (causing retinal degeneration). The researchers found that the treadmill training offered protective effects, preserving photoreceptors and retinal cell function in the mice.
Researcher Machelle Pardue said, “This is the first report of simple exercise having a direct effect on retinal health and vision. This research may one day lead to tailored exercise regimens or combination therapies in treatments of blinding diseases.”
Michelle Ploughman, who studies the effects of exercise on the healthy and diseased brain, explained, “These findings further our current understanding of the neuroprotective effects of aerobic exercise and the role of BDNF [brain-derived neurotrophic factor]. People who are at risk of macular degeneration or have early signs of the disease may be able to slow down the progression of visual impairment.”