Exercising daily—even if it’s just taking a walk—along with other healthy habits may help reduce the risk of progression of your Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Of course, the sadness that often comes with a macular degeneration diagnosis or sudden loss of vision can make it hard to get out of bed let alone take a brisk walk. Just know that a little heart-pounding activity will help raise your spirits as well as protecting your vision.
Before you start any exercise program, get an all clear from your medical doctor and your ophthalmologist. They’ll tell you which kinds of exercise you can safely do.
How Can Exercise Help Slow Vision Loss?
Your doctor might have told you that exercise is good for your general health. It's good for your macular health, too.
Direct benefits to the eyes: The cells of your retina are very active. That high level of activity is healthy, but it does create cell-damaging free radicals. As you age, the cell damage increases and your body’s natural repair mechanisms grow less efficient. Like the antioxidants you get from vitamins, regular physical activity is believed to boost the level of antioxidants in the eye to disarm those free radicals and enhance your retinas’ self-repair abilities.
Indirect benefits to the eyes: Scientists have linked some chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and high blood sugar to AMD. Controlling these health problems may help you preserve your vision, since exercise is one way to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
In a study of more than 1600 people, those with advanced AMD did 50% less moderate-to-vigorous exercise than those with no AMD.
Exercise and Macular Degeneration: Your RX
What type of activity? Aerobic activity that speeds up your heart is the most effective for eye health.
How much activity? Researchers reviewing studies of exercise and AMD found that three hours a week of low-to-moderate aerobic activity were beneficial.
How do I gauge the activity? If you can talk but can’t sing a song while working out, you’re exercising at moderate intensity.
Some examples of moderate aerobic activity that won’t stress your joints:
Swimming and water aerobics
Step-class without the step platform
Pushing a lawnmower
Other types of exercise
Low vision can increase your risk of falling, so consider adding some balance exercises to your daily routine. Yoga (or chair yoga if you have mobility issues) and tai chi are good for balance and can also help you reduce stress. Your senior center might offer classes, or you can try learning from a DVD. Or your balance exercises can be as simple as standing with one foot directly in front of the other—heel to toe—for as long as you can a couple of times a day.
If your vision is severely affected, work with a low-vision specialist or physical therapist to learn how to modify the activities you enjoy. (These experts can also help you find apps and DVDs to guide your exercise.)
How to Start an Exercise Program—and Keep Going
Think of exercise as medicine and always consult with your doctor before starting a new program. You wouldn’t skip a day of taking your insulin or blood thinner, and the same goes for exercise. If you’ve been sedentary you may have to push yourself until exercise becomes a habit, a process that can take two to eight months.
Wear an activity tracker if you’re the type of person who needs a goal.
Make a regular walking date with a friend so you’re accountable to someone other than yourself.
Listen to an audiobook while you walk indoors on a treadmill if you find exercise boring.
Start slowly by simply standing up every hour and walking around the house or office for a few minutes. Gradually add light exercise to your day, say walking five minutes several times a day five or six times a week. When that’s doable, increase your time to 10-minute walks three time a day. And go from there.