We’re all familiar with these common-sense health teachings: Exercise and diet to lose weight. Wear sunscreen to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Stop smoking to prevent heart disease.
But what about eye health? Leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward protecting your vision and preventing age-related eye disorders. In fact, many of the same behaviors that prevent heart disease, cancer and obesity can also keep your eyes in tip-top shape.
“Your quality of life is closely linked to how well you see,” says Lisa Shin, O.D., an optometrist and VSP® provider based in Los Alamos, NM. “You can take steps now to take care of your eyes and preserve your vision from childhood well into old age.”
Below, Shin shares six unexpected tips for protecting your eyesight and keeping your peepers healthy for years to come:
1. Eat a healthy diet. You’ve long heard that carrots are good for your eyes, and there’s more than a ring of truth to this popular wisdom. Research shows that certain foods can boost eye health and ward off age-related eye changes, such as macular degeneration. To keep your eyes in top shape, Shin recommends incorporating these eye-boosting vitamins and minerals into your diet: lutein and zeaxanthin (found in broccoli, corn, squash, peppers, spinach and kale); vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, melons, tomatoes and broccoli); vitamin E (found in legumes, wheat germ, nuts and seeds); zinc (found in whole grains); and omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon).
2. Reduce sun exposure. Cataracts are the most common cause of age-related vision loss in adults. “A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside your eye, which is clear at birth. Over time, the clouding can affect more of your lens, which means blurry vision,” Shin says. Because the sun’s ultraviolet rays can increase your risk of developing cataracts, it’s important to take precautions to shield your eyes from the sun. Shin recommends wearing UV protective eyewear, as well as wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Other risk factors for developing cataracts include family history, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, previous eye injury or surgery and excessive alcohol consumption.
3. Stop smoking. It’s a no-brainer that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but did you realize that it can also damage your eyesight? “Smoking harms nearly every bodily organ, including the eyes,” Shin says. “Cigarette smokers are at greater risk of developing both macular degeneration and cataracts.” Consider that yet another reason to kick your smoking habit to the curb!
4. Exercise regularly. Here’s another incentive to start working out: Aside from keeping your waistline trim, regular exercise can also keep your eyes sharp. A study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that those who led an active lifestyle were 70 percent less likely to develop macular degeneration. Participants in the study walked at least two miles a day, but even just 30 minutes of walking a day can go a long way toward keeping your entire body—eyes included—in tip-top shape.
5. Consider cutting-edge contact lenses and glasses. Eyesight changes drastically over time, which means you might need a new set of glasses or contacts to correct age-related vision changes. “After 40, our lens becomes less elastic, and we must hold reading material farther away to focus properly. This is called “presbyopia,” Shin says. “Recent innovations have produced multifocal contact lenses that are quite successful at correcting your presbyopia, as well as your distance vision. Digital progressive lenses also allow for excellent vision at all distances, with less distortion than previous options.” Additionally, lenses with special treatments can protect your eyes from the harmful blue light emitted from computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Talk to your eye doctor about the best contact lenses or glasses for your individual vision needs.
6. Go for an annual eye exam. Even if you think you have impeccable vision, it’s still imperative to schedule an annual eye check-up. The eyes provide a lot of clues about your overall health, Shin says. “Your eyes are a direct reflection of your overall health. Dilation enables your doctor to see the optic nerve, the retina, and the blood vessels,” says Shin. Simply by peering into your eyes, your eye doctor can detect a broad array of health conditions—from hypertension to diabetes to Crohn’s disease—that you might not even be aware that you have.
“Early diagnosis and treatment are important in glaucoma, which causes damage to your optic nerve and retinal nerves. Conditions such as diabetes and hypertension can also affect the blood vessels, resulting in bleeding and leakage,” Shin adds. Failing to detect these conditions early on can lead to permanent vision loss and other health complications.
Bottom line? You only have one set of eyes, so it’s crucial to take the proper steps to care for them. By nourishing your body with the right foods, getting regular exercise, and going in for annual eye exams, you can keep your vision sharp at any age.