November 18, 2023
Aging brings with it more than just wrinkles and a touch of gray hair, as your eyes are susceptible to a variety of age-linked conditions, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), and glaucoma. It's important to understand that while these conditions are more prevalent among those aged 50 and above, they aren't an unavoidable part of growing older.
The rate at which your body ages is unique to each individual, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest maintaining overall good health can reduce the severity of eye problems related to aging or even prevent them entirely.
A commonsense recommendation for safeguarding the health of your eyes is to get a comprehensive eye examination at the age of 40. This initial assessment can act as a reference point for monitoring any ocular changes that might occur in the future and can also pick up any current problems that need attention.
Safeguarding Your Eyes as You Age
While genetic predispositions to conditions like glaucoma or macular degeneration are not something you can control, there are several lifestyle changes that can help you lower the likelihood of encountering eye issues.
People who smoke or have smoked in the past are up to four times more likely to develop ARMD, a major cause of blindness in the United States, compared to non-smokers. This elevated risk can linger for up to twenty years after quitting. Multiple factors contribute to this heightened risk among smokers, such as changes in the cells of the eye, oxidative stress, and the constriction of blood vessels brought on by nicotine.
Excess weight impacts more than just your cardiovascular health as it has important repercussions on your visual health as well. Research consistently shows that individuals with higher body weight are more prone to cataracts. Although shedding this weight doesn't seem to stave off cataracts, maintaining a healthy weight is still beneficial in many other ways.
Obesity is also implicated in increasing your chances of glaucoma, possibly by contributing to fluid buildup within the eye and also through its association with high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance. Plus, obesity may elevate ARMD risk by heightening inflammation and oxidative stress. Research is ongoing to try to determine whether weight loss can alleviate these conditions.
Individuals with lighter skin and blue eyes are at an elevated risk for cataracts. Research, including a 1998 study, established a connection between sun exposure and a heightened risk of cataracts and ARMD. Ultraviolet (UV) light is believed to alter the cellular metabolism in the retina and lens.
To ensure adequate protection, select sunglasses that shield against both UV-A and UV-B radiation, and have a wraparound design to prevent up to 20 percent of the sun's rays from entering through the sides. Wear them consistently, even in the winter.
Exercise has many advantages, including helping to preserve your eyesight. A lengthy study involving over 15,000 participants showed that individuals who were physically active and consumed alcohol in moderation were less likely to experience vision deterioration over a span of two decades compared to their non-exercising, non-drinking counterparts. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to two drinks daily for men and one for women.
While you can’t opt out of aging, the manner in which growing older impacts your eyes can be influenced by your lifestyle choices. By adopting practices that promote overall health, such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, protecting your eyes from UV exposure, and staying active, you can contribute to preserving your vision and diminish the effects of age-related eye conditions.
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