Aging adults can falsely assume that changes in vision mean total loss of vision is inevitable. In truth, around 40 all adults begin to experience degrees of diminished ocular function, such as loss of ability to focus on objects up close due to hardening of the eye’s lens (presbyopia). The risk of developing disease and the effects of aging are distinct. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the greatest investment that aging adults can make toward reducing odds of developing eye disease that leads to more serious loss of vision.
To spotlight the linkage between healthy behaviors and optimal eye health, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has designated May as Healthy Vision Month. As spring warms and Americans embrace farm-to-table strawberries, asparagus and carrots, May presents an opportune month for improving one’s diet and other health habits for best ocular health.
Good Nutrition = Strong Eye Health
As we age, adopting a plant- and seafood-based diet reduces risk of developing ocular diseases linked to a poor diet high in saturated fats. Foods rich in Vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids, lutein and zexanthin, and selenium are full of antioxidants, which are key to good nutrition and slow cell death (oxidation) that accelerates aging. Diets full of omega-3 fatty acids also slow aging and greatly benefit ocular health through lowering inflammation and cortisol levels and boosting the body’s repair mechanisms.
- Carotenoids: Pumpkin, grapefruit, carrots, bell peppers, leafy greens, eggs, broccoli, tomatoes
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: Leafy greens (kale, spinach, and swiss chard),
- orange-yellow vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, colorful fruits (raspberries, papaya, peaches)
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), walnuts, seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds), plant oils
- Selenium: Whole or multi-grain pasta and bread, oatmeal, brown rice
- Vitamin A, C, E: Avocados, bananas, oranges, sunflower seeds
- Zinc: Legumes (beans and lentils), seeds, seafood, dairy, eggs
Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich diets can potentially slow the development of cataracts through blocking changes in fats and proteins that progressively cloud the eye’s lens. Research also shows that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids alleviate symptoms and reduce risks of developing chronic ocular conditions including dry eye disease (DED), age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma.
Prevention and Preparedness are Key to a Healthy Lifestyle!
- Exercise IS Key to Ocular Health! Regular exercise helps individuals prevent obesity that leads to many serious chronic conditions, including eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy, wet macular degeneration and glaucoma.
- Quit Smoking & Moderate Alcohol Intake Two modifiable health behaviors – smoking and drinking – are heavily associated with higher risk of developing chronic disease. By mid-life, adults seeking to optimize long-term health should quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke, as well as moderate or quit alcohol intake.
- Eye Exams Are Chronic Disease Detectives! Eyes reveal how blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues system-wide are functioning. Routine eye exams are critical for ocular health and offer a “free pass” for detecting a range of neurological, cardiac, cancer and other conditions before symptoms appear. Read the AAO’s 20 Surprising Health Problems an Eye Exam Can Catch to learn more.
- Know Family History of Eye Disease. Discuss family history, ethnicity and other health issues with your ophthalmologist to identify risk factors for developing serious eye diseases.
- Take Care of Your Eyes When Traveling. Preparedness is key to healthy living and key to travel.
- DO NOT WAIT until back home to seek medical attention when eye injuries/emergencies occur while traveling. Eye trauma can lead to permanent loss of vision if not treated immediately. An international list of all AAO members is available at Find an Ophthalmologist.
- Glasses wearers should pack two pairs on every trip. Contact wearers should pack lens cases and two bottles of lens solution in carry-ons for relieving drier eyes while in flight. Remove contacts if sleeping several hours in flight.
Lifestyle is key to lifelong good health, but perfection is not. Take action on what eye specialists emphasize most to preserve ocular health. By age 40, asymptomatic adults should have a comprehensive eye exam. Call UNC Kittner Eye Center at 984-974-2020 today to schedule your comprehensive eye exam with a UNC Ophthalmology ophthalmologist or optometrist. Read the AAO’s 21 Ways Aging Changes Your Eyes to learn more on changes in the eyes that come with age.