Exercise, occasional drinking can help prevent vision loss

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds occasional drinking, exercise protect vision
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Drinking alcohol occasionally and staying physically active may help protect you from visual impairment, according to a new study published in the journal Ophthalmology.

Impaired vision or loss of sight due to eye disease, injury, aging or a degenerative condition that wearing corrective glasses or contact lenses cannot fix, is increasing in the United States, with a projected 4 million Americans estimated to become visually impaired by 2020.

That’s a whopping 70 percent increase in the number of visually impaired Americans since 2000 because, despite the fact that Americans are living longer, age-related eye diseases that lead to visual impairment still persist.

Accordingly, researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine launched a study to find out if modifying certain lifestyle factors – such as exercise, drinking alcohol and smoking – had any effect on one’s vision.

For the study, the researchers investigated data from a long-term eye study involving almost 5,000 participants between the ages of 43 and 84 from 1988 to 2013.

During a period spanning 20 years, 5.4 percent of the participants in the eye study became visually impaired.

However, among those in the study who exercised regularly (at least three or more times per week), only 2 percent had visual impairment, compared with 6.7 percent of their non-exercising counterparts.

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After factoring in age, the research team found that the exercising participants were 58 percent less likely to develop a loss of vision than those who did not exercise at all.

Interestingly, the participants who did not drink any alcohol at all were actually more likely to develop visual impairment than those who drank occasionally. Among the non-drinkers, 11 percent went on to have visual problems, whereas only 4.8 percent of the occasional drinkers did.

When the researchers once again adjusted the results for age, they found that occasional drinkers were 49 percent less likely to develop visual impairment than those who did not drink alcohol at all.

The researchers defined occasional drinkers as those who had “consumed alcohol in the past year but reported zero servings in an average week." Non-drinkers were defined as those who had abstained from alcohol in the last year.

While the study found that drinking a little seemed to help prevent the development of visual impairment, drinking too much and smoking only slightly increased the risk of visual impairment to the extent that such risk was not enough to be statistically significant.

For example, the researchers reported that the chance of developing visual impairment was about the same for both occasional drinkers who only consumed one alcoholic drink per week, as well as heavier drinkers who consumed one or two alcoholic drinks per day.

Meanwhile, lead researcher Dr. Ronald Klein said that even though aging is one of the strongest contributors to eye diseases that cause visual impairment, aging is also “a factor we cannot change.”

He then added that lifestyle behaviors like drinking, smoking and exercise can be changed – and as this pertains to possible prevention, such behaviors can be modified and “lead to a direct reduction in vision loss."

SOURCE: Ophthalmology, Relation of Smoking, Drinking, and Physical Activity to Changes in Vision over a 20-Year Period, Ronald Klein, et al., published online March 3, 2014.

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