5 Ways to Keep Your Eyes Healthy for Life
Make these small tweaks today, and you’ll see clearly tomorrow and beyond
You can’t see the future, but you can determine if you’ll see in the future.
One in three adults suffer from a serious eye disease such as glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration by age 65. But none of those diseases pops up overnight. They develop over time, largely the consequence of poor lifestyle choices you make over decades.
“If you take care of your eyes when you’re young,” says Jay Duker, M.D., director of the New England Eye Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, “you’ll reap the benefits when you’re older.”
Here are five things you can do to improve the health of your eyes today, so that you’ll see clearly tomorrow and beyond.
1) Toss the Nicotine Sticks
“Wish I wouldn’t have quit smoking,” said no one ever.
You already know that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but it also contributes to certain eye conditions, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In fact, if you smoke, you double your risk of developing AMD, according to the National Eye Institute.
It’s never too late to snuff your cigarette habit. According to the CDC, your risk of a heart attack drops significantly within 1 year after quitting. And within 5 years, your risk for stroke is about the same as a nonsmoker’s.
You’re more likely to stay smoke-free if you don’t go it alone. Here are a few options:
- Ask your doctor for help. He or she may recommend coaching, medication, or both.
- Visit smokefree.gov and make a plan. This incredible tool will lead you every step of the way. You’ll set a quit date, find your why (as in why you want to quit), and identify your personal triggers so you can avoid them.
- Take a fitness class or exercise with friends. Staying active reduces the urge to smoke, and classmates and friends will hold you accountable.
2) Call Your Mom
Two of the leading causes of blindness, glaucoma and macular degeneration, can be hereditary, according to The Cleveland Clinic. Less serious vision problems, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, also have genetic links.
If you identify any landmines in your family history, talk to your eye care professional about ways to diffuse your risk, says Dr. Duker.
Certain types of glaucoma, for example, are caused by abnormally high pressure inside the eye. It develops over decades, slowly sapping your sight. You can’t reverse vision loss caused by glaucoma, but you can slow the disease’s progression—or maybe prevent it altogether.
If you have a genetic risk, your optometrist may recommend specific lifestyle changes, more frequent vision screenings, or even prescription meds.
3) Take Care of Your Ticker
What’s good for your heart is good for your eyes, says Dr. Duker. That starts with movement, meals, and rest. Here’s a simple three-step plan:
- Step #1: Exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes a week. Multiple studies have found that it improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, and keeps blood sugar in check. Plus, it’s fun. All exercise helps your heart, but double down on cardio: running, swimming, basketball, tennis.
- Step #2: Fill your plate with fish. Tuna and salmon are great options. Both are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and ease inflammation. Eat at least two servings of fish a week, recommends the American Heart Association.
- Step #3: Sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night. A recent Swedish study found that men who routinely get less than 5 hours of shuteye double their risk of a heart attack or stroke.
4) Tame Your Inflammation
There’s a reason you might be hearing more about chronic (sometimes called low-grade) inflammation these days. Studies have linked it to a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. It’s also bad for your eyes, says Dr. Duker.
What is chronic inflammation? Basically, it happens when your immune system can’t get to everything on its to-do list, so it remains on high alert. The foreign invaders include anything from air pollution to processed sugar, stress hormones and cholesterol molecules. Your immune system wants to get rid of it all, but doesn’t have the bandwidth.
The result: a continuous immune response that wreaks havoc on your body. Over time, blood vessels harden, thinking gets foggy, and organs work less efficiently.
“Low-grade inflammation is a direct result of an unhealthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Duker, who adds that a better diet is the best medicine.
In addition to getting of plenty of omega-3s, load up on dark, leafy greens, he says. Rule of thumb: Half your plate—at every meal—should be vegetables.
In addition, cut out all added sugar, which is the probably the biggest dietary cause of inflammation. That means soda and pie, certainly. But don’t overlook sneakier sources, such as salad dressing, pasta sauces, and condiments.
Read the ingredients list. Any word ending is –ose is a red flag.
5) Don’t Skip Your Eye Exam
To protect and maintain healthy eyes, get them checked annually—especially if you’re over 55, says Dr. Duker. If you have a family history, talk to your doctor about the right frequency for you. (Find an America’s Best location near you.)
Dilation can be an important part of eye exams for some. Your optometrist will use eye drops to open your pupils wide. This allows the doc to check your retinas for abnormalities, as well as early signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and other diseases.
Some optometrists offer a digital retina scan as well as dilation. Ask your optometrist which options work best for you and your lifestyle.