How to age-proof your vision
We Must Care for Our Eyes
Through our eyes, we experience moments every day, both big and small, that bring us happiness. As we age, however, vision may begin to fail--but you can take steps now to protect your sight for years to come. In fact, a growing body of research shows that simple lifestyle changes and dietary tweaks can help you control three common diseases of the older eye: glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. This is important news because people in their 60s are 6 times more likely than younger folks to get glaucoma, and they have about 3 times the risk of developing a cataract, compared with those in their 50s. Meanwhile, AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60.
Here's what scientists know you must do to protect your vision, what research shows is likely to work, and a suggestion that cutting-edge studies say is definitely worth a shot.
You Must... Block the Sun
On bright sunny days, put on a brimmed hat and UVA/UVB-blocking sunglasses, preferably with yellow, amber, or plum lenses. Protecting your eyes from invisible ultraviolet radiation may decrease your risk of cataracts, which occur when proteins in the eye's lens are damaged. And lenses of those hues reduce exposure to the sun's visible light--called the blue rays, says William Schiff, MD, a Columbia University Medical Center professor. Blue rays can increase your risk of AMD, a disease in which the macula (a part of the retina) is injured.
You Must... Get Checked
Regular trips to the eye doctor are necessary to catch AMD early. Because the signs are often gradual, waiting until you notice symptoms can result in permanent vision loss, says Andrew Iwach, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The same applies to glaucoma, a condition that can cause loss of peripheral and eventually central vision. The academy recommends that all adults have a comprehensive eye exam at age 40. After that, checkups every 2 years are fine, unless your eye doctor recommends otherwise.
You Must... Maintain a Healthy Weight
This may lower your risk of diabetes, which can damage the eyes and lead to blindness. People with type 2 diabetes have a 72% increased risk of a type of cataract and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as nondiabetics, according to the large, ongoing Beaver Dam Eye Study.
You Should... Get Vigorous Aerobic Activity Most Days
The research is preliminary, but increasing your heart rate may have a big payoff for your eyes, suggests 2009 research published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. In one study, participants who ran nearly 6 miles a day lowered their chance of developing cataracts by more than one-third, reports Paul Williams, PhD, an epidemiologist in Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division. In another, runners who logged nearly 2 1/2 miles daily cut their AMD risk by as much as 54%. Williams theorizes that other aerobic activities, such as cycling, swimming, and tennis, may also help. "Sweating and breathing hard appear to be good for your eyes," he says.
Vigorous activity also protects against glaucoma--if you keep it up. Recent research found that regular stationary cycling--3 months of 40-minute sessions 4 times a week--lowered elevated eye pressure to within normal range. The catch: In those who returned to their sedentary ways after the study, eye pressure climbed back to prestudy levels in just 3 weeks.
You Should... Eat Eye-Friendly Foods
Eat eye-friendly foods. To help protect your baby blues (or browns), work these picks into your daily diet:
A dose of vitamin C can lower your chance of developing a cataract, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. To get at least 362 mg a day--which the study showed reduced cataract risk by 57% over a 10-year period--start your morning with an 8-ounce glass of orange juice (good for 82 mg of vitamin C). Then incorporate other C-rich foods into your menu to help meet your daily quota: broccoli (132 mg per serving), strawberries (86 mg), and cauliflower (68 mg).
Eat Folic-Acid Fortified Cereal
Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported a 34% lower AMD risk among women who took a special supplement (not on the market) of B6, B12, and folic acid. Further study is needed, but it's a good idea to meet the RDA for folic acid (400 mcg), B6 (1.5 mg), and B12 (2.4 mcg), says researcher Robert Glynn, PhD, a Harvard Medical School professor. You can get enough of all three with a bowl of fortified cereal. (Check the nutrition label to make sure it's 100% fortified with folic acid, B6, and B12.)
Eat Kale and Dark Leafy Greens
Studies show their carotenoids, called lutein and zea-xanthin, may safeguard your retinas. Just 1 1/2 servings daily can mean a 50% lower risk of one form of AMD, and seven servings a day can lower cataract risk by 18%. Kale is the richest vegetable source, followed by collards, spinach, and turnip greens.
Include Olive Oil
Consuming 7 tablespoons of this healthy fat per week, or 1 a day, reduces the risk of a serious form of AMD by 52%, according to a 2009 study in the Archives of Ophthalmology. By contrast, people who ate the highest amounts of unhealthy trans fatty acids, found in shortening and processed foods, increased their chance of getting it by 76%.