Exercise and Glaucoma
Exercise for glaucoma patients may be beneficial. Research has shown that regular exercise may lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients. It does not have to be rigorous exercise to have a beneficial effect, but rather a brisk walk every other day for 20 to 30 minutes. Only your glaucoma specialist can determine if you have the type of glaucoma that would benefit from exercise and adequately assess the positive effects on your eye (intraocular) pressures.
Other risk factors such as family history, race, advancing age, diabetes, nearsightedness and high blood pressure are more difficult to measure and, in some cases (family history), impossible to change. Some factors we can influence, however. There is some recent evidence suggesting that regular exercise can reduce eye pressure. As an added benefit, regular exercise can have a positive impact on other glaucoma risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Prevention is a key word in glaucoma management.
Recent evidence indicates that regular exercise can reduce eye pressure.
Although medical research has known for a long time that the eye pressure is reduced for a few minutes following a single session of exercise, new studies suggest that regular exercise can lower eye pressure for a longer period.
These studies involved patients with high eye pressure who also had sedentary life-styles. Exercising for three months, they had an average of 20 percent reduction of their eye pressures. This beneficial lowering of the eye pressure could be maintained for several years, but was lost when the regular exercising stopped.
These studies involved healthy, but sedentary, patients who were first tested to determine if it was safe to exercise and to determine proper intensity of exercise. Exercise sessions were four times per week, and involved stationary cycling for 40 minutes each session. Measurable improvements in eye pressure and physical conditioning were seen by three months. These beneficial effects could be maintained by continuing to exercise at least three times per week. Not everyone in the study could continue to routinely exercise, and the lowering of eye pressure was lost if exercise was stopped for more than two weeks.
Routine exercise has been prescribed for prevention and treatment of a number of medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, osteoporosis, and depression. While it does not offer a cure, regular exercise, by reducing several risk factors for glaucoma, may be a useful addition to the prevention of visual loss from glaucoma.
Those considering beginning an exercise program should discuss it with their eye doctor. The doctor may suggest consulting a family practice physician or internist first to determine if it is safe to exercise and at what intensity. Some forms of glaucoma (such as closed-angle glaucoma) may not be amenable to effects of exercise. Other forms of glaucoma (for example, pigmentary glaucoma) may actually develop a temporary rise in eye pressure after exercising vigorously. Only your eye doctor can assess the effects of the exercise on your eye pressure. And remember—exercise does not replace medications or doctor visits!
Stationary cycling, as used in the studies mentioned, is easy to do and has low risks for injury. Other forms of exercise and less intense exercise may be acceptable, but have not been carefully studied. Even walking can briefly lower eye pressure. Try walking instead of driving, or go for a stroll with your family or friends. Remember, exercise programs need to be regular and can require a great deal of effort to maintain. So keep it simple! Keeping physically fit should be easy and fun, and it may help reduce your risk for glaucoma.