A study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that exercise actually reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45%. Why is this important? Well, these blood vessels happen to be big contributors to macular degeneration—an age-related eye disease 10 million Americans are estimated to have that causes vision loss—and several other eye diseases.
So what exactly did this study uncover?
The big takeaway is that exercise was found to slow or prevent the development of macular degeneration. Working up a sweat instead of just sitting around all day also can help with other common causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma.
“There has long been a question about whether maintaining a healthy lifestyle can delay or prevent the development of macular degeneration. This [study] offers hard evidence from the lab for the very first time,” said researcher Bradley Gelfand, Ph.D., of UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science.
Now, in case you’re thinking you need to start doing intense workouts in order to help your eyes out, think again. As Gelfand pointed out, the mice who were examined in this study simply had a wheel they ran on at different speeds. With that in mind, the mice had positive results by doing low-impact exercises, and doing more exercise didn’t necessarily mean there was a bigger benefit.
“Mice are kind of like people in that they will do a spectrum of exercise. As long as they had a wheel and ran on it, there was a benefit,” Gelfand said. “The benefit that they obtained is saturated at low levels of exercise.”
As of right now, it’s not entirely clear exactly why exercising can help improve vision, but the scientists hypothesize that increased blood flow to the eyes when exercising could be one of the many factors that help prevent blood vessel overgrowth. The researchers plan to look into this discovery further, in the hopes they “can develop a pill or method that will give you the benefits of exercise without having to exercise,” according to Gelfand. He said that since it’s typically the elderly who suffer from macular degeneration, many of them might not be able to adopt an all-new exercise regimen that would result in these positive benefits.
But for any person who can, there is yet another major upside to breaking a sweat.