8 tips for better eye health

6th Apr 2011

Using your eyes for too long - for example spending all day glued to your computer screen – can make them tired, twitchy and sometimes blurry, and eventually you’ll need to let them rest before continuing your task. That’s fine as a short-term measure, but aside from religiously wearing your sunglasses, how do you look after your eyes and vision for the long haul? These tips might surprise you, since, on the surface, some of them don’t seem related to the eyes at all.

1. Stop smoking

You know that smoking is bad for your lungs, but did you also know that it can drastically increase your risk of suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and that if you do get it you’re also likely to be affected earlier and more severely than those who don’t smoke?

Smoking also increases your risk of some forms of cataracts, so don’t delay in giving up.

2. Exercise more – and hard

We’re often told that moderate exercise is all we need. But when it comes to your eye health, it seems that really pushing yourself is the way to go. In a study involving nearly 42,000 runners, the risk of developing AMD decreased by around 10% for every kilometre run per day. Compared to those who ran a couple of kilometres or less, people who ran at least 4 kilometres per day were about half as likely to develop AMD.

Participating in regular exercise has many other health benefits too; for example, besides helping to maintain your eyesight as you get older, it may also help preserve your memory .

3. Whittle your waistline

If you’re unlucky enough to be affected by AMD as you get older, being overweight or obese increases your risk of it progressing from its mild form to its more severe one.

This particularly applies to abdominal obesity (being an apple shape, rather than a pear shape), so get out your tape measure and set yourself the aim of trimming your waistline. If you’re a Caucasian or Asian woman, your goal is for your waist to be less than 80 cm when measured at the level of your belly button. If you’re a Caucasian man, your target is 94 cm or less. (Different targets apply to other ethnic groups, so visit the Australian Government’s Measure Up website for more information).

4. Adopt a low-GI diet

A low glycaemic index (low-GI) diet focuses on slow-burning carbohydrates like legumes and wholegrains that promote long-lasting energy, and avoids carbohydrates (like potatoes and white bread) that are quickly converted to sugar in the body.

If you do need to lose weight, a low glycaemic index (low-GI) diet may help, and over the long term, may also cut your risk of developing AMD by more than three-quarters. At the very least, increase your consumption of wholegrains, as even that single dietary change may be enough to cut your AMD risk significantly.

5. Eat more orange and yellow foods

Orange-coloured fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkin and rockmelon, contain betacarotene, which is converted by the body into vitamin A – a vital nutrient for eye health.

The yellow-coloured antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are also important for vision, and particularly for helping to protect your eyes from glare and light-induced damage. They’re predominantly found in egg yolks and leafy green vegetables, but for optimal intake, you may need to take a supplement made from the Mexican marigold, Tagetes erecta. All three of these antioxidants are also found in many green vegetables, including spinach.

6. Eat berries by the bowlful

Many berries are good sources of anthocyanins, purple-coloured antioxidants that support the integrity of the blood vessels, and in particular those of the eyes. Eat blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or cranberries with your breakfast in the morning, or as a delicious dessert after dinner.

Alternatively, consider taking a herbal liquid or tablet that contains bilberries, which have traditionally been used to relieve tired eyes, improve night vision and help the eyes adapt to changing light conditions.

7. Feed yourself fish

To support your heart health, it’s recommended that you eat at least two serves of fish each week. At the same time, you’ll be helping to protect your vision – perhaps in part because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish have anti-inflammatory effects on the blood vessels of the eyes.

Cut back your meat intake at the same time – it’s the major dietary source of a pro-inflammatory fat called arachidonic acid. Reducing the amount arachidonic acid while increasing your omega-3s could help reduce your risk of developing AMD.

8. Skip the salt

Having high blood pressure is a risk factor for both cataracts and AMD, so don’t add salt to your meals or indulge in salty snacks or processed foods (check the sodium level on the nutritional panel of the label). In particular, avoid salty salami, bacon and other processed meats, as the processing they undergo is associated with a high degree of free radical activity.

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