Exercise can slow or prevent the development of macular degeneration and may benefit other common causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, new research suggests.
The study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVA) found that exercise reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45%. This tangle of blood vessels is a key contributor to macular degeneration and several other eye diseases.
The study represents the first experimental evidence showing that exercise can reduce the severity of macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss, the scientists report. The research found that the bar for receiving the benefits from exercise was relatively low – more exercise didn’t mean more benefit. “Mice are kind of like people in that they will do a spectrum of exercise. As long as they had a wheel and ran on it, there was a benefit,” Gelfand, of UVA’s Department of Ophthalmology and Department of Biomedical Engineering, said. “The benefit that they obtained is saturated at low levels of exercise.”
The scientists aren’t certain exactly how exercise is preventing the blood vessel overgrowth. There could be a variety of factors at play, they say, including increased blood flow to the eyes.
Gelfand noted that, with humans, the onset of vision loss is often associated with a decrease in exercise. “It is fairly well known that as people’s eyes and vision deteriorate, their tendency to engage in physical activity also goes down,” he said. “It can be a challenging thing to study in older people. How much of that is one causing the other?”
“The next step is to look at how and why this happens, and to see if we can develop a pill or method that will give you the benefits of exercise without having to exercise,” Gelfand said. Read the study HERE.