In the coming two years, experts believe an additional 80 million people will be diagnosed with glaucoma, a progressive disorder that affects the optic nerve and ultimately leads to blindness. Glaucoma causes the neuroretinal rim of the optic nerve to thin, while the optic nerve cup enlarges. As a result, the patient’s visual field grows smaller over time. Ophthalmologists have spent years trying to determine how this disease can be prevented. According to recent research in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, physical activity may help reduce the risk of glaucoma in older adults.
The Link between Physical Fitness and Glaucoma Risk
The researchers found that meeting the guidelines for physical activity and physical fitness could reduce the risk of developing glaucoma by up to 50 percent. The team looked at approximately 10,000 people in a long-term study and found that even people who exercised for fewer than the recommended 150 minutes per week experienced some risk reduction compared to people with sedentary lifestyles. This finding is important considering that physicians largely do not know how to prevent glaucoma, despite the fact that it is a leading cause of blindness and its prevalence is only set to increase in the years to come.
The mechanism through which physical activity reduces the risk of glaucoma is not entirely clear, but it is likely connected to intraocular pressure. The thinning of the optic nerve that occurs in glaucoma happens due to increased pressure in the inner eye. Prior research has shown physical activity lowers this pressure, in addition to the many other benefits it provides. Unfortunately, half of Americans do not currently meet the national guidelines of 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, as well as two days of resistance training, each week. This fact could account in some part for the increasing rates of glaucoma.