10 Simple Ways to Keep Your Eyes Healthy for Life

Show your eyes some love by making these healthy vision habits your own.

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They say that small gestures can drastically improve any relationship. The one you have with your eyes is no different.

“The simplest things can help keep your eyes healthy for life—from getting more sleep to eating a few more vegetables every day,” says optometrist Deanna Paul-Blanc, O.D., with Nashville Regional Eye Care, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.

And often, those habits are good for your whole body too. 

Healthy body, healthy eyes. What’s not to love?

Nurture your relationship with your eyes by treating them right—starting now.

1. Visit Your Eye Doctor

“An eye exam should be treated as preventive care,” says Elizabeth Walsh Czirr, O.D., also with Nashville Regional Eye Care. “People go many years without exams because they feel they can see well. But just because you have good vision doesn’t mean there’s not something going on.”

A yearly eye exam may be the only way to spot eye diseases early. “Often, it’s the first line of defense against systemic problems like high blood pressure and diabetes,” she says.

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2. Put More Greens on Your Plate

Move over, carrots. A growing body of research suggests that green, leafy vegetables are even better at preventing eye diseases.

It’s all about the carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular. These two powerful antioxidants naturally gravitate toward the back of your eyes. There, they soak up blue light from the sun and your tech toys before it can harm your retinas.

Several studies, including the landmark Nurses’ Health Study and the Eye Disease Case Control Study, show that a diet rich in these nutrients can lower your odds of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, two of the leading causes of low vision and vision loss.

Some of the best food sources include kale, spinach, and turnip greens. If you’re not a big salad fan, don’t worry. These greens work great in breakfast omelettes and pasta dishes.

They’re also delicious on their own: Try sautéeing a handful of turnip greens in a skillet with olive oil and garlic until just wilted; season with salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice.

3. Treat Yourself to New Eye Makeup

Yes, an excuse to shop! Bacteria and other germs can build up on mascaras and eye liners over time, increasing your risk of an eye infection.

“You should throw these away every three months—even if there’s some left in the container—or after you’ve had an eye infection,” says Dr. Paul-Blanc. “I’ve seen women reinfect themselves because they’d bought $20 mascara and didn’t want to throw it away. It’s very common.”

And if the new product irritates your peepers or causes redness, stop using it—you may be sensitive to one of the ingredients. “Protecting your eyes may mean figuring out what you’re sensitive to,” she says. Look for products labeled noncomedogenic or hypoallergenic.

4. Dig Out Your Sunglasses

Haven’t popped on your sunnies since Labor Day? It’s time to pull them out of the beach bag and bring them back into daily use, says Dr. Czirr.

Sunglasses are just as important for your eyes as shoes are for your feet, she says. “They’re for year-round protection!”

In fact, exposure to the sun’s UV rays increases your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and eye cancer. Look for a pair that blocks 100% of UV rays, and remember “bigger is better,” says Dr. Czirr. “You’ll have more coverage and more protection against UV rays from every direction.”

5. Shed Some Artificial Tears

Everyone can benefit from keeping artificial tears on hand—not just people with dry eye syndrome or eye allergies, says Dr. Paul-Blanc.

That’s because many people’s eyelids come slightly open during sleep, she explains, and the artificial tears can help keep your eyes hydrated overnight. This is especially important if you sleep with a CPAP machine (for sleep apnea), a fan on, or the window open—all increase the eye’s exposure to drying air.

She recommends preservative-free artificial tears that have a cellulose base (check the ingredients section of the product label), which are thicker than water-based drops. “The thicker the drop, the longer it will stay in the eyes.”

6. Give Them a Spa Treatment

Another daily ritual that’s worth it? Applying a warm compress to your eyelids before bed or just after waking. You’ll encourage the release of natural oils and improve the quality of your tears.

Simply drench a washcloth in hot water, let it cool slightly before wringing it out, and lay it over your eyes for 10 to 15 minutes. Reheat the cloth as needed.

7. Exercise in the Great Outdoors

The incidence of nearsightedness is reaching epidemic levels worldwide, according to a 2018 study in the journal Ophthalmology. In the United States, it has nearly doubled in the past 50 years.

One working theory links the shift to an increase in near-work activities, like reading and staring at screens. And research suggests that spending time outdoors, especially in early childhood, can delay the progression of nearsightedness.

“It comes down to being more active outdoors, and looking out, far away from anything up-close, like a phone or an iPad,” says Dr. Paul-Blanc.

What’s more, research from the Cleveland Clinic shows that exercise can lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration in older adults. And if you can’t get outside, follow the 20-20-20 rule when you’re on a digital device: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

8. Apply UV Protection to Your Car Windows

A car’s windshield is treated to block UVA rays, but the side and rear windows still let the harmful rays through.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying a transparent UV-blocking film for added protection. In one study, the combination of UV-absorbing auto glass and UV-blocking window film reduced sun-related skin cell death by 93 percent.

Window tinting is regulated in many states, so be sure the product you’re buying is clear, which is legal in all states. Also check that the product blocks 99 percent of UV rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends brands like 3M Company and Solar Gard. You can find window film at auto supply and home project stores, as well as online.

9. Skip the Late-Night Shows

“Sleep is right up there with eye exams and sunglasses,” says Dr. Paul-Blanc. “Shutting your eyes and really getting into that rapid eye movement sleep is a good way to reset the eyes.”

Here’s why: Night after night of tossing and turning or getting less than seven hours of sleep not only leaves your eyes feeling tired and irritated but also increases your risk of eye diseases like dry eye syndrome. That’s because you need that deep sleep in order for healthy new cells to replace old ones.

The way you sleep matters too. Turns out the best sleep position for your eyes is on your back. A 2017 study found that stomach and side sleepers have an increased risk of dry eye disease. In these positions, sleepers are pressing on the eye’s delicate oil glands, increasing inflammation and affecting their ability to function.

10. Never Say No to a Glass of H2O

Maintaining healthy moisture levels in your eyes is essential not just for comfort but also for washing away debris and preventing infection, says Dr. Paul-Blanc.

“Remember, your eyes are an organ, which means they’re susceptible to dehydration,” she says.

Artificial tears (see tip No. 5) can help, but the best thing you can do is much simpler: Drink more water.

She suggests toting your own bottle of water, so you can take a sip whenever you’re thirsty. And make a habit of having a glass of water with every meal.