woman pointing finger at eye

A Little Exercise Keeps Eyesight Bright

By Trudi Purdy, wlr team

Key Takeaways

  • Exercise can slow or prevent age-related loss of vision
  • Great news for couch-potatoes – a relatively small amount of exercise helps

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is what ageing changes in the retina are called when there are no other obvious causes.

In 2018, 1.5 million people in the UK were affected by it and it is the most common cause of sight impairment in the developed world. A mass of blood vessels in the retina cause blurred vision and, in some cases, loss of vision.

But scientists in America think they may have found a way to slow it down or even prevent it.

The Study

The group of scientists from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have completed a study to see what effect, if any, exercise may have on the disease.

Bradley Gelfand (PhD) of UVA’s Centre for Advanced Vision Science said,

"It is fairly well known that as people's eyes and vision deteriorate, their tendency to engage in physical activity also goes down. It can be a challenging thing to study in older people. ... How much of that is one causing the other?"

The study involved two groups of mice. One group was housed in cages with running wheels that they could use when they felt like it, while the other group was in cages without running wheels. Gelfand 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,

He went on to say,

"That is basically the most sophisticated study that has been done. The problem with that is that people are notoriously bad self-reporters ... and that can lead to conclusions that may or not be true. This [study] offers hard evidence from the lab for very first time."


The researchers in this study are hoping to secure funding to pursue their findings further. But the reduction in blood vessels and, therefore, an improvement in vision, has spurred them on.

The next step would be to look at how and why the reduction happens. Self-confessed couch potato, Gelfand said his secret motivation was to find some reason not to exercise.

“It turned out exercise really is good for you. Now we need to see if we can develop a pill or method that will give you the benefits of exercise without having to exercise.

"We're talking about a fairly elderly population [of people with macular degeneration], many of whom may not be capable of conducting the type of exercise regimen that may be required to see some kind of benefit." (He urged people to consult their doctors before beginning any aggressive exercise program.)

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Ryan D. Makin, Dionne Argyle, Shuichiro Hirahara, Yosuke Nagasaka, Mei Zhang, Zhen Yan, Nagaraj Kerur, Jayakrishna Ambati, Bradley D. Gelfand; Voluntary Exercise Suppresses Choroidal Neovascularization in Mice. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2020;61(5):52.

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