According to research conducted by the American Foundation of the Blind, most Americans (21%) fear that vision problems may have a more negative impact on quality of life than any other serious health problems, including cancer (14%), stroke (11%), heart disease (6%), and diabetes (4%).
That’s quite staggering, but when you think about it, our concerns about losing our vision as we get older are justified by our fears of what we’d lose. For instance, losing your vision means losing your independence, not being able to read, not being able to properly identify medication, not being able to drive, and much, much more—like not being able to enjoy the faces of your loved ones, not being able to appreciate nature and all the world has to offer, and so on.
As you’ve gotten older, you may have noticed that your vision has changed. For example, maybe you wear glasses now to read or see things up close (presbyopia). Maybe your eyes are more sensitive to glare or making out various colors. You see, as we age, we’re at a higher risk of encountering age-related vision loss.
And there’s no question that vision loss is a very real concern with age. Yet, there are some simple strategies you can implement to protect your eye health as you get older. Here’s what you can start doing today to improve eye health and maintain your vision so you can continue to enjoy your independence and all that the world has to offer!
5 Ways to Improve Eye Health As you Age
Have you ever heard of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin? They are carotenoids that are concentrated in the macula (of the eye), and therefore, they’re referred to as the “macular carotenoids.” Acting as primary filters of high-energy blue light, lutein and zeaxanthin support visual health and acuity by protecting against oxidative stress and inﬂammation.
Specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin isomers act as a “protective shield” against damaging UV rays and harmful free radicals. More simply put, lutein and zeaxanthin isomers act as “natural sunglasses.” Recent research shows that lutein and zeaxanthin increase macular pigment levels, improve visual function and performance, reduce glare sensitivity, and mitigate age-related decline in eye health.
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Unfortunately, the average dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is far below levels shown in research to be beneficial.46 In fact, most people only consume about 20 – 25% of the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin that recent studies have shown to be needed to maximize health benefits. How can you get more of these macular carotenoids? You can start by eating more dark green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, corn, citrus, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, and certain fish, such as salmon, sardines, and trout. Speaking of fish…
According to Australian researchers, people who had one or more servings of fish per week were 40% less likely to age-related declines in eye health and vision compared to their counterparts. The reason: Fatty fish contains the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are regarded for numerous health benefits including eye health and vision support.
DHA is an especially important nutrient because it is the major structural component of the retina. This in and of itself signifies the importance of DHA in eye health and visual function. Meanwhile, research shows that EPA serves as precursor to signaling molecules with potential to beneficial influence retinal function.
When it comes to choosing fish and seafood, not all options are created equally. We obviously want to opt for choices that are rich in DHA and EPA, but we also have to take into consideration issues like sustainability and heavy metal toxicity (e.g., mercury). Generally speaking, the best fish and seafood choices that meet these criteria include:
- Wild salmon
- Pacific sardines
- Rainbow trout
- Atlantic mackerel
A plethora of studies have shown that supplementation with antioxidants, particularly vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are quite beneficial in preserving eye health and vision as we age. As mentioned above, oxidative stress—which can be brought on by many factors, including excess exposure to the sun and blue light—can be quite damaging to the eyes, which are particularly sensitive to oxidative damage. For that reason, antioxidants are a key component of a vision and eye health program.
We already talked about where you can find lutein and zeaxanthin, and the following are the best sources of vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Dark leafy greens
Meanwhile, dark leafy greens (there they are again…getting the feeling you should eat your greens), such as spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, and kale are great sources of vitamin E, which you can also find in sunflower seeds, asparagus, almonds, broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
Speaking of dark leafy greens, they’re also a great source of beta-carotene. Seriously, are you still not convinced you need to eat your greens? Orange-colored fruits and vegetables, like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangos, papaya, and cantaloupe are also rich in beta-carotene.
Reduce Blue Light
When people think about damaging exposure to light, they often think sunlight. What most people don’t think about is the potentially even more dangerous high-energy blue light (HEBL) emitted from electronic devices. Yes, the same electronic devices—computer screens, mobile devices, tablets, and televisions—that you spend nearly 10 HOURS in front of each day. Additional sources of HEBL include fluorescent and LED lighting.
HEBL penetrates deep into the eye and is an emerging risk factor for eye health and eye fatigue. If not protected against, HEBL increases free radical production in the eyes. HEBL affects EVERYONE; in other words, eye health is not just for older people. Try spending less time in front of screens, which can have undesirable effects on sleep quality, alertness (during the day), neck and eye strain, eye fatigue, headaches, and cognitive performance. Also, try using apps like Twilight, f.lux, Night Shift and NightMode, which cut down on the blue lighting on your screens, for computers, smartphones, and tablets. You can also experiment with amber-tinted glasses (such as Swanwick “Swannies”) and amber-tinted light bulbs.
If you use a computer (who doesn’t, right?), try to implement the 20-20-20 rule. That is, every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away. Another trick is to blink more often. Again, every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes very slowly (like you’re falling asleep); this helps rewet your eyes.
You can also practice something called “palming” where you rub your palms together to heat them up and place them gently over your closed eyes until the heat is absorbed. This soothing treatment allows your eye muscles to relax. And, don’t forget to get plenty of quality sleep so your eyes can fully rest.
Implementing these simple strategies, along with a nutrient-rich diet, will have you well on your way toward keeping your vision healthy for many years to come.