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Exercise Can Slow or Prevent Vision Loss, Study Finds

The Macular Society says we’ve known that exercise and a balanced diet contribute to eye health. But there hasn’t been enough research to determine whether it can delay the effects of macular degeneration—until now. (Macular degeneration is considered incurable.)

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans—more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. It is caused by deterioration of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, which is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye. It controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.

Researchers from the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine found that exercise reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice up to 45%. It represents the first experimental evidence showing that exercise can reduce the severity of macular degeneration, and may benefit other common causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Researcher Bradley Gelfand, PhD, of UVA's Center for Advanced Vision Science, said: "There has long been a question about whether maintaining a healthy lifestyle can delay or prevent the development of macular degeneration. The way that question has historically been answered has been by taking surveys of people, asking them what they are eating and how much exercise they are performing.” The problem, Gelfand says, is that those kinds of studies are prone to self-reporting errors. (A self-described couch potato, Gelfand joked: “It turned out exercise is really good for you.”)

The UVA team set up a series of mouse experiments to investigate whether exercise directly affects macular degeneration. Two groups of mice were compared, one group with an exercise wheel in the cage, and another group without the wheel. The voluntary nature of the exercise was important as forced exercise exerts a number of stress responses that could negatively influence the results.

After four weeks the researchers used lasers to induce a form of eye damage called choroidal neovascularization (CNV), a major factor in many age-related forms of vision loss that involves an overgrowth of blood vessels in a certain part of the eye. CNV is a model often used to study age-related macular degeneration in mice

Here's what the found:

Across two experiments the researchers discovered blood vessel overgrowth in the exercising mice was between 32 and 45 percent lower than in the mice without access to voluntary exercise.

As expected, the results found that exercising following the laser injury did not improve the damage caused by leaking blood vessels. Only the mice with the pre-conditioning of exercise displayed reductions in the subsequent eye damage.

Researchers say this suggests a small amount of exercise does seem to help prevent damage caused by certain types of degenerative vision loss.

What's next?

The research team at UVA hopes to further investigate how and why this happens to see if they can potentially develop a pill or treatment which can mimic the benefits of exercise, without having to exercise. 

You can read more about the study on Science Daily: https://tinyurl.com/y9jw9xwr

My Take

Is there no malady exercise won’t prevent or slow down? Sure seems like it.

Will toenail fungus be next?

Once again, the researchers are looking for a pill to mimic the benefits of exercise. Understandable for those who aren’t able to exercise.

But for those willing and able to exercise, self-help is far better. No pharmaceutical company or government plan can get in your way.

If you can exercise, this study is another reason to “Get going and don’t stop.”

Notice the importance the researchers placed voluntary exercise. “The voluntary nature of the exercise was important as forced exercise exerts a number of stress responses that could negatively influence the results.”

Very few of us will continue doing exercise that make us unhappy. You want exercises that makes your day.

Our new Hip-Belt Squat machine is an example. It’s the first time Carol has enjoyed doing squats. Her legs are not made for squats and this machine feels good to her.

My legs are made for squats, but my lower back doesn’t like them anymore. The new machine takes the stress off my back and I’m making progress, increasing the resistance I can do for 20 reps by 50 pounds.

High reps set my quads on fire—without stirring up my lower back or causing other problems.

Pretty good for a lifetime trainer on the eve of his 83rd birthday.

As I’ve said repeatedly, find forms of exercise you enjoy and do well—and keep doing them.

November 1, 2020

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