Healthy Living Leads to Better Eyesight
It’s no secret that a healthy lifestyle lowers your risk of disease, but Claudia Arroyave-O’Brien, M.D., says that making good choices also safeguards your sight. Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien is an ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System.
Nearly four in 10 adults in the U.S. are at high risk of vision loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It makes sense, then, to heed Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien’s advice for protecting your eyes and overall health.
Schedule an annual eye exam.
Many visual changes and diseases are caught early if you don’t skip your annual eye exam. As for children, they “need a good eye evaluation between the ages of six and 12 months, and regular follow-up exams as recommended.”
Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien says. She also advocates getting kids outdoors to promote healthy visual development. “We have learned that limiting close work and spending time outdoors at a younger age reduces the risk of myopia (nearsightedness). Also, teach children to wash their hands, avoid rubbing their eyes, and wear safety glasses for sports, DIY, or high-risk activities.”
Know your family history.
“Those conditions are genetic,” says Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien. To perform the appropriate tests, your ophthalmologist needs to know your family medical history.
Manage chronic conditions.
“People forget that high blood pressure and diabetes can lead to permanent vision loss if not properly managed and treated,” says Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien. Again, don’t forget to share information about your other health conditions with your eye care provider.
Practice good computer habits.
To relieve eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on an object 20 feet away. Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien also advises adjusting workspace lighting to reduce glare on your computer screen and to make the text easier to read.
Your monitor should be positioned at or below eye level, and the brightness and color temperature should be set at a comfortable level. “It should not be too harsh or overly blue-toned.” Using blue light filters or glasses is helpful, too. And don’t forget to blink.
“Some studies show that computer users blink less often, which leads to dry eye. Make a conscious effort to blink frequently to keep your eyes moist and prevent dryness and discomfort.”
South Florida is humid; a climate-controlled home is not. Sleeping under a ceiling fan may aggravate dry eye.
“We live inside, so stay well hydrated and use a humidifier. Consider using lubricating, preservative-free eye drops recommended by your eye care provider if your eyes are dry. Do not use ‘get the red out’ eye drops. Eating foods that contain lutein also helps dry eye,” says Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien.
Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale contain antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all of which benefit vision, as do broccoli and “colorful vegetables” like peppers, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene and vitamin A in carrots have protective qualities, and citrus and berries contain vitamin C and antioxidants. The omega-3 acids in fatty cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel help alleviate dry eye and fight age-related macular degeneration. Nuts and seeds contain antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamin E. Other proteins that promote good eyesight include legumes, with their bioflavonoids and zinc, and egg yolks, which contain zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E, all of which help prevent cataracts and AMD.
While Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien says it’s better to get sight-saving nutrients from nutritious foods, she suggests AREDS-2 eye vitamins for certain individuals.
“The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS-2) formula is a specific combination of vitamins and minerals that have been studied extensively for their potential benefits in reducing the progression of age-related macular degeneration in individuals with intermediate or advanced AMD.” AREDS-2 supplements are available over the counter. Omega-3 fish oil supplements may also help with dry eye.
Improve your air quality.
Pay attention to the air quality in your workplace and home. Extremely dry air or air laden with chemicals, or smoke from cigarettes or incense can irritate your eyes.
Kicking this habit is the quickest way to improve your health and your indoor air quality. Smoking increases your chances of cataracts and macular degeneration and may even damage your optic nerve.
Wear protective eyewear.
Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays, and wear safety glasses when playing sports or participating in high-risk activities.
Avoid fashionable mistakes.
“I don’t recommend sharing eye makeup or wearing false eyelashes or Halloween contact lenses.” When handling regular contact lenses, always wash your hands first, sanitize your lenses properly, and discard any expired contact lens solution.
Get adequate sleep.
A good night’s rest relaxes the eye muscles and rehydrates the eyes. Sleep also boosts immunity and brain function, both of which affect health.
You may notice one healthy habit didn’t make the list.
“There is no scientific evidence that exercise improves vision, including eye exercises,” Dr. Arroyave-O’Brien says. However, exercise does reduce the risk of chronic disease and improves the quality of your sleep, so regular workouts are a great idea.
Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to the UHealth Collective. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.