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Exercise, Sleep, Meditation: One of These Things is not like the Others… At Least Where Your Eyes Are Concerned

Recent studies reveal that lifestyle choices can have a clear and measurable impact on eye health. In fact, they can be nearly as powerful as some of our best medicines. But some surprising choices can actually hurt you, and in the end, it takes well-designed research to tease out the good from the bad and the ugly.

For example, there’s a fluid in your eye called aqueous humor, which keeps your eye inflated, like a balloon. When there’s too much of that fluid, however, the pressure inside your eye, called intraocular pressure (IOP), increases and causes damage to the optic nerve. That’s the very definition of glaucoma, and left untreated, it can lead to blindness. The current standard of care includes powerful drugs that lower IOP, but one recent study shows that mindfulness meditation can be nearly as effective as those medications in reducing inflammation, lowering oxidative stress biomarkers, and improving a host of other factors.

Likewise, a study in mice at the University of Virginia School of Medicine demonstrated that minimal exercise can reduce the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes, aka age-related macular degeneration (AMD), by as much as 45%. Epidemiologists estimate that 10 million Americans live with this condition. It’s the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over 50 years of age. So it turns out that exercise may be good for a lot more than trimming down for the beach season.

On the other hand, you might think that lots of sleep would give your eyes more rest and rejuvenation. What could be better for them? A cross-sectional study at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University, suggests otherwise. When researchers there looked at the eye records of 6784 glaucoma patients, aged 40 and above, they found that the odds of disc defined glaucoma were 3 times higher among subjects who slept for ≥10 hours per compared with 7 hours per night, and 2 times higher in people who fell asleep in less than 9 minutes.

Should heavy sleepers be warned?

What the scientists don’t yet know: Do these sleep habits contribute to glaucoma, or does glaucoma contribute to these sleep habits?

Michael Boland, MD, PhD, glaucoma specialist at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD (Sleep and Glaucoma)

Bradley Gelfand, PhD, of UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science (Exercise and Macular Degeneration)

Tanuj Dada, MD, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (See “Expert” as alternate contact)

Donald Abrams, MD, Krieger Eye Institute, Sinai Hospital, Lifebridge Health, Cataract, Glaucoma, ophthalmology, eye treatment

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