(NaturalNews) More and more people are suffering from eye-related health problems. What can individuals do to lower their risk? In this regard, two recent studies conducted by the United States Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have given us some good news, revealing that vigorous exercise could lower the risk of cataracts as well as age-related macular degeneration.
Details and Findings of Studies
The studies, published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, had looked at about 41,000 runners for a period of over 7 years. They used data from the National Runners' Health Study, a project which began in 1991 to ascertain the beneficial effects of running. About 29,000 men and 12,000 women were followed, and, at the end of the study, 733 of the male runners reported a cataract diagnosis; the number of women who reported having the condition was not significant enough for analysis.
The researchers found that males who ran more than 5.7 miles each day had a 35% reduced risk of developing cataracts, as compared to men who hit the road less than 1.4 miles each day. Using the men's performances in 10-kilometer races, which provide a good measure of overall fitness, it was also found that the fittest guys had only 50% the cataract risk of those who were the least fit. With cataracts affecting more than half of Americans aged over 65 and also being the number one cause of blindness, this is certainly interesting information for running enthusiasts and those hoping to fend off the disease.
Another study looked at the link between running and aged-related macular degeneration. From the 152 men and women who reported a diagnosis of this condition, those who ran between 1.2 and 2.4 miles each day experienced a 19% reduced risk, as compared to those who covered less than 1.2 miles each day. The corresponding decrease in risk for those whose daily mileage was over 2.4 miles was between 42% and 54%. Again, with age-related macular degeneration being the number one cause of irreversible vision loss in older white Americans, this is another piece of interesting and useful information.
"In addition to obtaining regular eye exams, people can take a more active role in preserving their vision. The studies suggest that people can perhaps lessen their risk for these diseases by taking part in a fitness regimen that includes vigorous exercise. These findings are compelling because of the large size of the study, and the fact that we are looking at something that is fairly well defined: vigorous exercise, as opposed to more moderate exercise," said Paul Williams, an epidemiologist at the laboratory's Life Sciences Division and part of the study team.
Is Running Required to Reap the Said Benefits?
This study was among the first to draw a positive link between vigorous exercise and the prevention of vision loss. But many people cannot really run, or at least not much. Will walking help, too, then? "We know there are important health benefits to walking, including lowering heart disease risk. It is quite likely that the study results might apply to a lesser extent to smaller doses of more moderate exercise," said Williams.
Importance of Nutrition for Eye Health
What else can we do to improve eye health? Most certainly, as with all other health conditions, nutrition plays a key role. Some research has suggested that antioxidants could reduce one's risk of cataracts as well as macular degeneration. In addition, vitamin A, found abundantly in carrots, can also protect against blindness, while vitamin C, richly found in oranges, may help prevent or alleviate glaucoma.
Essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish and flaxseed oil is another group of important nutrients, possibly helping to protect against macular damage as well as to alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Other useful nutrients include vitamin E, selenium, zinc and bioflavanoids - be sure to get enough of them in your diet.
Avoid Cigarette Smoke, Too
Another risk factor for degenerative eye disease is smoking. A study published a few years ago in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that smoking raised one's risk of developing age-related macular degeneration; it was also revealed that more smoking translated to higher risk.
Those who regularly smoked a pack or more of cigarettes a day for 40 years had almost three times the risk of the condition as compared to non-smokers. Even non-smoking partners who had lived with smokers for at least 5 years had elevated risk - almost two-fold.
These tips and suggestions would go a long way in helping to improve one's eye health. Vigorous exercise, good nutrition and avoidance of cigarette smoke, whether first-hand or second-hand - all these simple steps play a large part not just in eye health, but one's overall health and vitality, too? Certainly, the recent studies have given us one more reason to regularly don our running shoes.
J C Khan, D A Thurlby, H Shahid, D G Clayton, J R W Yates, M Bradley, A T Moore, A C Bird. Smoking and age related macular degeneration: the number of pack years of cigarette smoking is a major determinant of risk for both geographic atrophy and choroidal neovascularisation. British Journal of Ophthalmology 2006;90:75-80.