Can a walk in the park aid our vision as we age?
The data is in, and it's not pretty. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sight impairments that involve disease, eye trauma or degenerative conditions that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses have increased by 70 percent since the year 2000.
The research was conducted as part of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a multiyear examination (1988-2013) of 5,000 adults between the ages of 43 and 84. Bottom line: Four million more people have significant visual challenges today than in 2000.
But there's some unexpected news built into in the findings.
"Regular physical activity and an occasional alcoholic drink were found to be associated with a lower risk of visual impairment."
It's enough to make me want to walk around the block three times, followed by a glass of wine on the terrace.
You would have to dig into the underbelly of this study to unearth the particulars, but that stood out for me in the summary of the research was people who got regular physical activity were 56 percent less likely to have significant visual problems. This is early-stage epidemiological research, and we should not assume too much, but if something like a walk in the park might help my vision, I'm in.
Like millions of men and women around my age, I have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that robs you of "near" vision. Small print frustrates me to the point of exhaustion. I have increased the font (print) size on my computer to such a degree that if I forget to resize it before sending an email, people think I'm shouting at them. I keep magnifying glasses of all shapes and sizes throughout the house. And I have positioned non-glare lamps (with the best wattage possible) carefully around the chair in which I do the most reading.
My back-lighted Kindle with adjustable font size is a godsend.
My mother had macular degeneration, and my daughter who is in her early 40s is likely to have it, as well. Heredity plays a huge part in what happens to us as we age and can account for up to 50 percent of the chronic disease conditions we are diagnosed as having. Age-related macular degeneration may be one of the most notorious in that regard.
I've had AMD long enough to know that my vision may degenerate less if I eat a nutrient-dense diet (leafy greens and seafood) and keep my blood pressure under control. I see my ophthalmologist/optometrist twice a year, ask good questions and do what they tell me to do. I think the best websites for more information are www.nei.nih.gov and www.geteyesmart.org
Other than a particular over-the-counter "eye vitamin" that has shown some promising results, there's not much happening on the research front, which is why the findings about exercise and alcohol consumption are so interesting. I'll keep delving into this study for more detail. You go ahead and take a walk or go to the gym while I do that. Go ahead, see what's out there.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.