Blog post by: Eye Physicians of Long Beach

Almost 20% of Americans over the age of 40 have cataracts according to the Centers for Disease Control. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye and is the leading cause of vision loss and reversible blindness. Those who suffer from cataracts may experience blurred or doubled vision, difficulty with contrast as well as problems with color and depth perception. Cataracts do not go away on their own and can be removed with a laser. But, there may also be modifiable risk factors that can increase your risk of developing cataracts. Lack of exercise may be one of those risks factors you can change in order to decrease your risk of developing a cataract.

Cataracts are not all caused by aging, poor health or lifestyle choices; some are even present at birth. Most cataracts can be removed surgically, though fear and lack of insurance coverage leads to an unnecessarily high number of patients who live with blurred vision due to cataracts. Factors that increase your risk of cataracts include age, family history, diabetes, obesity, smoking, UV light exposure, and extended steroid use. A recent study published by Ophthalmology also suggests that a lack of exercise will increase the chance of cataract formation.

In this large study, Swedish researchers observed an inverse relationship between physical activity and cataract formation in men and women aged 45-83. During the 12 year study, cataract formation was observed 11,580 times in the study population of 52,660 participants. Researchers found that those in the highest quartile of physical activity were 13% less likely to suffer a cataract.
It should come as no surprise that lack of physical exercise is linked to the risk of cataracts, since diabetes and it’s related elevations in blood blood sugar levels are to an increase risk of cataracts and lack of exercise increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. The global obesity epidemic has resulted in an exponential rise in type-2 diabetes. The reduction in exercise and resultant obesity is a worldwide lifestyle change that is affecting all areas of health, including vision health.

While cataracts can form as people age, regardless of their lifestyle habits, general good health remains the best way to avoid their formation. A healthy diet, routine physical activity, and not smoking will lower the risk of many health problems, including diabetes and cataracts. Wearing sunglasses and visors or hats to protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays will also reduce your risk of cataracts and other eye problems.

This study does not prove that lack of exercise causes cataracts. It is probable that conditions frequently seen in people that do not excercise regularly are the ones that increase the risk of cataract and that the lack of exercise alone does not increase your risk. But, increase your level of exercise anyway and maintain your weight. Do this for your self. It may just help you see and save your life.