Eye Health for the 21st Century!
Always making sure I'm giving my eyes the best possible chance of seeing for an entire lifetime!
Were humans designed to sit for hours at a time reading a book, studying, sitting in front of a computer, television, tablet, or cell phone? Here are some interesting facts: Writing was first invented about 6,000 years ago. Not until the nineteenth century did reading become common for the average person to spend hours reading. Today, in the 21st century, developed countries spend many hours staring at computers, televisions, and cell phones. Is this natural for humans? Are we meant to stare in a motionless state, while engaged in these eye-straining, headache-causing activities day in and day out?
Spending time studying and improving our minds is important, but it may also cost us our vision as well as our overall health. Myopia (nearsightedness) is more common today in the U.S and many other countries. In the 1970’s 25% of Americans aged 12-54 were diagnosed with myopia. Fast-forward 30 plus years and data indicates a jump to about 42% of Americans having myopia. Nearly a third of children between the age of seven and seventeen have become nearsighted in the United States and Europe, resulting in the need to wear glasses. In Asia, nearly 80 percent of the population is nearsighted. However, evidence shows that nearsightedness was once uncommon. Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, writes how studies from all over the world involving modern hunter-gatherers indicates almost perfect eyesight in the groups studied. Any vision impairments that do exist, myopia is the most common, only consisting of less than 3%, and all were mild cases. Those hunter-gatherer populations who have taken on the Western lifestyle have noted an increase in nearsightedness.
Think about living back some 70,000 years ago when hunters and gatherers needed to rely on their eyesight to hunt and forage for food and watch for predators. Your life would depend upon excellent vision in order to survive. Had myopia been as prevalent then as it is today, one wonders how many people would have survived with such poor vision. When looking through history, we see a rare incidence of myopia among unskilled laborers and farmers, and an increase the more skilled and educated an individual became. Myopia was rare among Europeans except among those who were educated upper class citizens.
Our 21st century population finds myopia has drastically increased over the last thirty years. One study found that those who read more than two books a week were three times more likely to have myopia, while another study found that children who spent less time outside are more likely to become nearsighted, regardless of how much they read. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a recent eye health study revealed that more time spent outdoors exposing natural light and/or time spent looking at distant objects may be key factors to reducing rates of nearsightedness in children and adolescents. A recent Chinese study, of 80 nearsighted children between the ages of seven and eleven, assigned half of the children to spend less than 30 hours on close visual work and more than 14 hours outside each week. At the end of the two-year study, children in the intervention group were less nearsighted on average than the control group of 40 children who did not follow the special schedule. Other studies have shown that physical fitness has a positive effect on eye health. When exercising, this increases the blood flow to the eye, which increases the oxygen and nutrients to the eye. When higher levels of physical exercise are incorporated into our daily lives, this appears to have a long-term beneficial impact on low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP), which is an important risk factor for glaucoma.
We live in our homes, offices, schools, malls…all keeping us looking at objects that are relatively close to us. Our eyes were designed to look out over great distances…plains, hills, valleys; not just the few inches and up to 20 feet we see in our building- bound lives. It’s so important for us to look carefully at how our 21st century lifestyle is impacting the way we were designed to live and our health.
Do you experience dry, tearing, or a burning sensation while working on the computer or reading a book? When we concentrate, whether it’s reading or working on the computer, we blink about half as many times as we do when we aren’t concentrating. Blinking brings fresh tears to the corneal surface, which helps our eyes stay moist and free of irritants. So the more we concentrate, the drier our eyes become. With so many of us using computers, smartphones, or other digital devices throughout each day, computer eye strain is becoming a problem. Studies show that eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms occur in 50 to 90 percent of people using computers at work.
We all know that physical exercise helps us maintain a healthy weight, prevent cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol levels, and increase our energy level, but how many of us exercise to improve our eye health? Daily physical exercise or movement may also protect us from eye diseases and vision loss. Doesn’t this make sense that our eyes would benefit just like the rest of our body does when we exercise? Recent studies indicate that exercise can provide protection against cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the world, myopia, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy. A large number of eye diseases are linked to other health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. Exercise can help keep these health problems at bay or limit their impact if they do occur.
How exactly does exercise achieve these benefits in our eyes? Physical exercise improves the blood flow and circulation to eye tissues and helps flush toxins away from the eyes. Vigorous exercise leads to high concentrations of HDL (high density lipoprotein), which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. As inflammation and oxidation are part of the development of cataracts, it makes sense that exercise can slow the rate of progress for the cataracts. One interesting study found that people with low levels of physical activity were 7 times more likely to develop cataracts than those with high levels of activity. Cardiovascular disease shares many risk factors with macular degeneration (a major cause of blindness caused by degeneration of the central retina), and obesity (also associated with vision loss). One study of joggers found that the risk of age-related macular degeneration decreased by 10% for every one kilometer of jogging per day. Just as important as exercise, diet plays a crucial role as well. Another contributors to eye disease is smoking. If you are a smoker, make a decision to quit smoking. The health of your eyes and overall health depend on it!
Think how many times we hear our doctors ask us about our family genetic history. Macular Degeneration has taken my mother’s central vision. Five years ago I was diagnosed with cataracts. I knew our family history of eye problems and daily sun exposure without wearing sunglasses for the first 25 years of my life may put me at risk of getting some kind of eye disease. I also have presbyopia, which is a condition associated with aging in which the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects. So, each year I’m tested to see if there is progression of the cataracts, presbyopia, and if my eyes are showing signs of Macular Degeneration, as we know so many health problems can be hereditary. However, the good news is, we can alter our genetic destiny with a healthy diet and lifestyle!! Scientists now know that genes can be switched on and off by how we choose to live. (Stay tuned for this upcoming Blog about this fascinating topic!!) Please don't believe that if you have a family history of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's/dementia, arthritis, asthma, blood clots, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or macular degeneration, that you are doomed to be afflicted with that disease. It's up to us to take charge of our health destiny! It's up to me to take charge of my eye health destiny and do whatever I can to see clearly for a lifetime. As of today, June 24, 2016, I'm thrilled to hear my optometrist tell me once again that my vision and cataracts remain unchanged, and no sign of Macular Degeneration!! She says my healthy lifestyle is the key to keeping my eye health strong for years to come! And, she is always very intrigued to learn more about my lifestyle, as she is impressed how my 55 year old eyes aren't getting weaker each year, but remaining stable. Just another way that proves living a healthy lifestyle slows down or halts the aging process! Check out our video about eye health! Click here!
A recent study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found a correlation between a high fat intake, especially saturated fat, being associated with macular degeneration. Women, aged 50 – 70 who consumed the highest amount of calories from fat (43%) had the greatest risk of Macular Degeneration – 70% higher odds than those with the lowest proportion of calories from fat (21%). What we eat also impacts our vision. Numerous studies show that eating refined and processed carbohydrates are consistently linked to not only poor physical health, but poor eye health, as well. We see rates of chronic diseases like diabetes continue to increase. By eating a healthy, whole food, nutrient rich diet and watching your weight, you are benefiting your eyes. Obesity has been directly linked to the development of type-2 diabetes and one of the side-effects of this debilitating disease is the development of diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina). Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in younger populations, and is beginning to take its toll earlier in life, bringing serious complications, such as vision impairment, to younger adults. Studies show that the rates of blindness and low vision are expected to double to 6.6 million Americans by 2030. So, is our lifestyle causing poor vision?
A lifetime of afternoon UV light exposure can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration, so always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection between 9:00am and 4:00pm. However, early morning and late afternoon sunlight is vital to our overall health without the use of sunglasses. Future Blog!!!
What can we do to protect our vision for a long healthy life?
implement the use of increased distance vision
reduce the use of near vision
frequent physical activity
spend more time outside getting more natural light exposure and better Vitamin D synthesis
wear sunglasses between the hours of 9:00am to 4:00pm.
eat a healthy diet.
Action Plan to improve eye health:
Use my 30 X 5 Plan: If you are working in front of a computer screen, watching TV, gaming, or reading for long periods of time; 1. Every 30 minutes 2. Stand up 3. Distance Vision: Look 30 feet or more into the distance for a minimum of 30 seconds, look outside (Distance Vision). Going outside is best, whenever possible, to get sunlight for Vitamin D - I prefer early morning or evening - before 9:00am or after 4:00pm to protect my eyes and skin from the more damaging rays from the sun. 4. Blinking, Zooming, or Figure 8 eye exercises 30 times or for 30 seconds. Alternate between these throughout the day. 5. Physical movement for 30 reps. or 30 seconds: squats, sit-ups, pushups, jumping jacks, crawling, chin-ups, dance, run up a flight of stairs, a quick walk, etc.
This will help to bring the eye to a completely relaxed state and give the rest of your body the needed movement to remain healthy. Like any other muscle, holding our eyes focused for long periods of time at near distance vision, is similar to holding a muscle tight for a long period of time causing cramps, spasms, and fatigue. Our eyes are experiencing this when we are focused on our computers for such long periods.
Three of our favorite eye exercises to alternate throughout the day during our 30 X 5 Plan:
Blinking is often overlooked and yet a simple way to keep your eyes fresh and able to focus longer. With all of the technology devices used each day along with watching television, we tend to blink less, especially when our eyes are intently focused on something. Whenever we blink our eyes, we keep the eyes fresh, moisturized, in a relaxed state…this helps to reduce eyestrain. Alternate this with one of the other eye exercises each time you do your 30X5 Eye Action Plan.
This exercise will strengthen your focusing skills and your eye muscles in general.
Stretch out your arm with your thumb in the hitchhike position
Focus on your thumb as your arm is outstretched.
Now bring your thumb closer to you, focusing all the time, until your thumb is about 3 to 6 inches in front of your nose.
Now move your thumb away again until your arm is fully extended.
Alternate this eye exercise with one of the eye exercises of your choice for 30 seconds during one of the 30 X 5 sessions.
This is to exercise your eye muscles and increase their flexibility. Imagine a giant figure eight about 10 to 15 feet in front of you. Follow the outline of the figure 8 with your eyes. Reverse…Now turn the 8 on it’s side (Infinity Symbol). Now trace the figure that with your eyes, slowly. Reverse. Do this for 30 seconds. Alternate this with one of the other eye exercises each time you do your 30X5 Eye Action Plan.
Location of your computer: Think about where you have your computer located in your home or place of work. Is it near a window for you to look out and increase your distance vision? I have my computer placed next to my sliding glass door that looks out into the woods. I’m constantly taking breaks to move, stretch, look outside into the distance, and relax. Try to arrange your office in the same fashion; so you are able to look outside a few times each hour and move. Often I’ll change my position when I return back to working and squat or sit on the floor, giving my body a different position to work from.
Reduce time spent in close proximity at computers, tablets, gaming, cell phones, and even reading books. Many of us love to read a good book. To save our eyes, we may need to put the book down more often and spend more time outside getting fresh air, exercise, and early morning sunlight. Our overall health is at risk!
Eat a whole food, nutrient rich diet. Vitamins A, C, E, and minerals like copper and zinc are essential to eyesight.
Antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, protect the macula from sun damage. We get these antioxidants from dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Yellow, Red, and orange peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and carrots are also loaded with these powerhouse carotenoids. Do you notice any color patterns among these super foods? Current research shows that consuming yellow and green vegetables can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
Foods rich in sulfur, cysteine, and lecithin help protect the lens of your eye from cataract formation. Excellent choices include garlic, onions, shallots, and capers.
Anthocyanin-rich blueberries, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, and goji berries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve our vision. These are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these powerful carotenoids have been linked to lower risk of cataracts, advanced macular degeneration, and have been shown to reverse Type 2 Diabetic conditions and eliminates the excessive highs and lows for a Type 1 Diabetic, coupled with frequent exercise.
Breastfeeding offers protective benefits to an infant against myopia, as well. This is most likely due to the advantages of omega-3 fatty acids in the breast milk along with a host of other nutrients provided in the breast milk.