Does the lifestyle we lead affect our ability to see?
Most of us are worried about how our diet, level of physical activity, and stress levels affect our our risk of heart disease and cancer. Is there a direct connection between our lifestyle choices and our vision?
According to a recent report published in the journal Ophthalmology, lifestyle factors like level of physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption can have a very important impact on our vision over several decades.
Researchers analyzed the health data of 4,926 adults including the results of interviews and eye examinations conducted every five years. They also gathered information on alcohol consumption, levels of physical activity, and smoking behavior. At this point, the levels of visual impairment were calculated and matched with lifestyle behaviors and other factors like age and gender.
The researchers discovered that the level of visual impairment increased as a factor of aging from less than one percent in those subjects aged 43-54 to 14.6% in those aged 85 or above. The results of this study indicated that the overall decline in visual acuity over the 20-year period ranged from one percent in those aged 43-54 to 60% in the older subjects aged 75-84.
When the results were analyzed against the lifestyle factors, some very interesting findings became evident.
It was found that for those who smoked, the risk of experiencing visual impairment increased 65% compared with those who did not smoke. Those subjects who drank heavily had a risk of developing visual impairment which was 166% higher than in non-drinkers. Interestingly, those who did not drink at all had a 95% increased risk of developing visual impairment over the 20-year follow-up. Those who were physically active showed a 58% decreased risk of developing visual impairment compared to sedentary individuals.
The differences in visual acuity over the length of the study could only be traced to two different factors. The degree of visual acuity lost over time was directly associated to smoking status and inversely linked with the number of flights of stairs climbed on a daily basis.
“[T]his report provides evidence that modifiable behaviors such as regular physical activity may have a protective effect for incident VI and that smoking may have deleterious effects on vision,” said Dr. Ronald Klein, chief researcher of this report. “There have been essentially very few long-term studies that have looked specifically at the functional loss of vision and the relationship to these lifestyle factors. This new study gives information collected over a long period of time with enough exposure to give enough power to look at these relationships.”
Other studies show that the intake of more darkly-colored vegetables and fruits can affect the development of certain common eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration. However, this study is one of the first to assess the effects of lifestyle dynamics upon the loss of visual function over time.
Although aging is an important factor in the process of progressive visual impairment, certain lifestyle factors like smoking, diet, level of physical activity, and alcohol consumption can also play a crucial role in protecting our visual capability over time.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Hand, L., “Lifestyle Choices May Affect Vision Down the Road, ”Medscape web site; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/821969#1, last accessed March 17, 2014.
Klein, R., et al., “Relation of Smoking, Drinking, and Physical Activity to Changes in Vision over a 20-Year Period: The Beaver Dam Eye Study, ”Ophthalmology, published online March 3, 2014.