Age-related eye diseases are the primary cause of blindness and vision impairment in the United States. Over 3 million Americans aged 40 and over are legally blind or visually impaired, and the number of those impacted is expected to double by 2030.1
Maintaining your vision health as you age is important for obvious reasons – like protecting your ability to drive, read, watch TV and even function on a daily basis – but vision health impacts far more than this. For instance, vision problems in the elderly are linked to:
- Social isolation
- Increased risk of falling and hip fractures
- Family stress
- Premature death
The good news is that many vision problems can be prevented entirely by taking proactive steps to protect your eyes now.
Make These 7 Changes to Protect Your Vision Health
1. Eat a Diet Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants help protect your eyes from free radical damage, which can be particularly damaging to your eye’s retina and lens. Two of the most important are lutein and zeaxanthin, found in egg yolks and green leafy vegetables, which help protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly). Other dietary additions to consider include:
- Berries: Berries (blueberries, blackberries, etc.) are rich in anthocyanins, which may help improve blood flow to your eyes and strengthen blood vessel walls, which plays a role in slowing the development of diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina that occurs in people with diabetes).
- Brazil Nuts: One Brazil nut provides more than the recommended daily allowance of selenium, an antioxidant that may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Broccoli: This and other members of the cruciferous family of vegetables contain sulforaphane, a compound that not only fights cancer but also has antioxidant properties that may help protect your retinal cells from damaging free radicals.2
2. Wear Sunglasses
Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause cumulative damage to your eyes over time, increasing your risk of cataracts, AMD, and even cancer of the eye and eyelids. Wearing sunglasses can help to reduce UV-light-related risks to your eyes. Some tips:
- Choose sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB rays
- The color of the lens (darker vs. lighter) does not matter; they must state on the label that they offer UV protection
- Polarized lenses can help reduce glare, which is helpful when driving or boating
- Wrap-around sunglasses offer side protection as well, making them a smart choice
- Wear your sunglasses year-round, and even when it’s cloudy, as UV rays are present in all types of weather
3. Don’t Smoke
Smoking takes a heavy toll on your vision health, increasing your risk of AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, and dry eye syndrome. Smoking also increases your risk of diabetes, which is a leading cause of blindness in Americans. Aside from age, smoking is the leading risk factor for AMD, and research shows it’s never too late to quit. Even quitting smoking in your 80s may benefit your vision health.3
4. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Excess weight is linked to a number of chronic diseases, and some of these, like diabetes, can be detrimental to your vision health. Obesity is also directly related to age-related cataracts, glaucoma, age-related maculopathy, and diabetic retinopathy.4 By eating right and exercising regularly, you can help maintain a healthy body weight and protect your vision health in the process.
5. Additional Nutrients for Healthy Eyes
The following nutrients play an important role as part of a healthy eye diet. They’re available via your diet and also in supplement form:
- Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene and Zinc: Research sponsored by the National Eye Institute revealed that high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and zinc significantly protect vision health.5
- Fatty Acids: Alpha lipoic acid and other omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish and fish oil are potent antioxidants that work against both fat and water-soluble free radicals and support vision health.6
6. Avoid Chronic Eyestrain
While the long-term effects of chronic eyestrain are unknown, in the short-term over-taxing your eyes by staring at a computer screen too long can lead to eye pain, blurry vision, headaches and more. It’s a good idea to take frequent eye “breaks” anytime you’re engaging in an activity that involves intense, prolonged eye focus (including hobby work, crossword puzzles, etc.). Generally, give your eyes a break and a chance to focus on something else at least once every 20 minutes.
7. Exercise Moderately at Least 3 Days a Week
As mentioned, exercise is important because it will help you maintain a healthy weight. But above and beyond this, exercise helps reduce pressure in your eyes, which lowers the risk of glaucoma. Staying active can also help prevent cataracts, retinal artery and retinal vein occlusions and even AMD. In fact, people aged 43 to 86 who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise like dancing, cycling and jogging three times a week or more were 70 percent less likely to develop AMD!7
As you may have noticed, many of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle equate with better vision health as you age, and this is true even of strategies not necessarily listed here. For instance, proper sleep, relaxation and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins all impact both your overall and your vision health, so the more you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, the better your eyesight is likely to be.
1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Improving the Nation’s Vision Health”
2. World’s Healthiest Foods
3. Am J Ophthalmol. 2010 Jan;149(1):160-9. Epub 2009 Oct 1.
4. Survey of Ophthalmology 52, no. 2 (3, 2007): 180-195.
5. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436.
6. Sci Transl Med. 2011 Feb 9;3(69):69ra12.
7. Br J Ophthalmol. 2006 Dec;90(12):1461-3. Epub 2006 Oct 31.