The role of exercise in preventing age-related macular degeneration

Exercise in preventing age-related macular degenerationExercise isn’t just for losing or maintaining a healthy weight, but to protect your vital organs and ward of illnesses, and this goes for eye health too.  Several studies have been undertaken into how being active can reduce a person’s chances of developing AMD, we look at them to see the light they shine on the link.

The Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences undertook a study to monitor the relationship between diet, smoking and physical activity in related to AMD amongst women between 50 and 79 years of age. They were part of the wider Women’s Health Initiative Study, and had also taken part in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS) as part of this. The 1,663 women were categorised into lower, moderate and high risk groups based on smoking, diet and levels of activity, and their family history of AMD also noted.

337 women in the study developed AMD, 91% of those had the disease in its early stages. Of the women in the study, those with the highest levels of physical activity had 54% lower odds of AMD than those with the lowest levels – this was characterised as at least 10 hours of light exercise per week or 8 hours of moderate exercise. Additionally, smokers who were in the highest risk group for diet and exercise were four times more likely to have AMD.

The Beaver Dam Study, which recruited between 1988 and 1990, looked at nearly 4,000 men and women between 43 – 86 years old and their incident of AMD in relation to exercise. They were evaluated every 5 years for 15 years; those who walked more than 12 blocks each day decreased their incidence of exudative AMD by 30% over the 15-year study. Further results, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, showed those with an active lifestyle were 70% less likely to develop wet AMD too.

M.D. Knudston, one of the researchers on the Beaver Dam study (from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health) says other factors may also affect risk, like diet. But exercise and being physically active also reduces the kind of inflammation and blood vessel irregularities that are present in wet AMD cases.

The similarities between these studies is that they show only a need for moderate to light exercise, with most subjects just walking rather than taking part in complex regimes. This is good news, as walking is the most accessible form of exercise that can be taken anywhere or anytime.

Patients should be encouraged to build any exercise into their daily or weekly routine, whatever they feel will work for them. Good habits like this will protect their eye health as well as cardiovascular health and overall mental wellbeing. This may in turn promote better attitudes towards following a healthier diet and giving up smoking or reducing alcohol consumption.

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