Lifestyle Factors Affecting Eye Health

What can you do to protect your vision and help to keep your eyes healthy?

There are several lifestyle choices you can make for yourself and for your family to reduce the risk of getting eye diseases. You have heard most of this advice before in other places, because what’s good for you in general is also good for your eyes.

Stop Smoking!

The most important risk factor under your control is the decision not to smoke. A recent study has shown that, on average, smoking shortens a person’s life by 10 years due to heart disease and cancer. There is also very strong evidence that smoking is a causative factor for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy. As a matter of fact, smoking is the only thing, besides advancing age, that has been proven to be clearly related to AMD, which is a devastating, sight-robbing disease. You already know that smoking greatly increases your risk for lung cancer and heart disease. The link between smoking and eye disease is just another reason not to smoke. To learn more, see our brochure titled  Is your eyesight going up in smoke?

Watch Your and Your Family’s Weight!

The next most important thing you can do for yourself is to maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight (having a body mass index over 25), besides causing heart disease and arthritis, and shortening people’s life-span by several years, very often leads to insulin-independent (type-2) diabetes. After you have had this increasingly common disease for a few years, it can have disastrous consequences for your eyes, kidneys, heart, and peripheral nerves (often leading to amputations). In the eye, specifically, diabetes often causes diabetic retinopathy and cataract. In addition to diabetes, there is some evidence that being overweight is related to an increased risk for AMD. So, eat reasonably sized portions of healthy foods and get some exercise; any exercise, even walking, is better than being sedentary. Importantly, because you probably determine what your children eat, at least at home, prepare wholesome foods for them, in reasonable portions. And set a good example for your children when you eat out together in restaurants. Do everything you can to have them grow up with healthy weights.

Visit the National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases for advice on weight maintenance.

Eat Healthy!

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is, of course, good advice for protecting yourself against heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. You’ve heard that before. As for your eyes, studies have found that eating foods containing carotenoids and some other antioxidants appears to help protect people from getting age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. However, as other reports have found no such effect, the jury is still out. So, the prudent thing to do is to eat several portions a day of vegetables and fruits. This is good for your general health, and may be good for your eyes; it certainly won’t hurt. Elderly people living alone may lose interest in food or have difficulty obtaining it; perhaps try to help your older relatives with their shopping and meal preparation.

In particular, two carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin —are present in the retina and in the lens of the eye; eating foods that contain them is hypothesized by scientists to delay the light- and oxidative-induced damage that leads to AMD and cataracts. These compounds are found in dark green, leafy vegetables and in several fruits. Lutein is also available in some dietary supplements. A recent study showed that giving patients who already had a mild form of AMD a supplement containing a mixture of antioxidant vitamins and minerals appeared to slow the course of the disease for some of the patients. However, in many studies, supplements did not show the same beneficial effects as whole foods. These results all constitute suggestive evidence that fruits and vegetables may be good for your eye health. Why not be on the safe side? Learn more about nutrition and the eye at:

National Institutes of Health

Avoid Too Much Sunlight!

A similar situation applies to the effects of sunlight. There is some evidence that exposure of the eyes to strong sunlight for long periods of time may hasten the progress of one type of cataract (cortical). So be prudent. Wear sunglasses and/or hats with brims when you go out in the sun. And, even more importantly, protect your kids’ eyes in the same way; the damaging, high-energy rays of the sun penetrate farther into children’s eyes and can cause more long-term damage in them.

Women’s Eye Health