4 Simple Ways to Keep Your Eye Sight Sharp and Healthy, According to Experts
More than 25 million Americans age 40 and above are affected by cataracts, glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration—the three most common eye diseases. And the vast majority of us will develop one or more of them later in our lives. "But these conditions, which are the leading causes of vision loss and blindness in the U.S., are preventable if you take action early," says Rudrani Banik, M.D., a neuro-ophthalmologist at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City. Along with regular eye exams (the American Optometric Association recommends low-risk adults get an eye exam every two years, then yearly after age 64), try these lifestyle moves that keep your sight sharp.
In a population study of more than 2,800 adults age 50 and older published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who reported eating at least one orange a day had a 58% reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration over a 15-year period compared to those who never noshed the fruit. AMD is a disease that degrades central vision, resulting in blurriness when reading and driving, and is a primary cause of vision loss among adults over age 50. The researchers point to the flavonoids in oranges, which fight sight-degrading oxidative damage and protect blood vessel function—important for bringing nutrients and oxygen to your eyes. Plus, they're excellent sources of vitamin C, a nutrient that plays a role in the formation of collagen proteins that make up the structures of the eyes.
Load Up on Leafies
Carotenoids, a group of compounds that includes lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin, are found inside your retina—the part of your eye that sends signals to your brain, producing vision. "These compounds protect against free radical damage and neutralize harmful UV light from the sun and blue light from electronic devices," says Banik. So eating carotenoid-rich foods—like kale, chard, spinach and other leafy greens—protects retinal health. These veggies are also good sources of nitrates, and diets high in nitrates have been linked to as much as a 39% lower incidence of developing AMD compared to diets low in them, as nitrates may bolster blood vessel function, according to a study from the University of Sydney in Australia.
Sup on Seafood
Any type of fish you like will do, thanks to the polyunsaturated fats all varieties contain, says Sheldon Rowan, Ph.D., a scientist on the nutrition and vision team at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Eating fish twice a week was associated with a 24% lower risk of AMD, according to a study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. Bonus for choosing fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna that are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, notably DHA and EPA, that safeguard eyes from light, oxidation and inflammation damage. Rowan adds that it's likely the healthy fats in fish and other nutrients like carotenoids interact together to confer the benefit. Meaning: Eating fish may be better than popping an omega-3 supplement.
Move on the Regular
The amount of weekly exercise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends (75 to 150 minutes, depending on intensity) is not just the goal for maintaining a healthy weight and staving off chronic diseases. A 2018 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed it also delayed the development of glaucoma, damage of the optic nerve that can slowly and silently progress, leading to blindness without proper treatment. Adults who hit those fitness targets were 51% less likely to get glaucoma. And other research has found that daily movement guarded against cataracts and AMD. The future looks bright. (Don't forget your sunglasses!)