By the year 2050, an estimated 895 million people worldwide will have developed vision impairment, according to a report in The Lancet. That’s a 150 percent increase over the next 30 years. It’s estimated that by age 65, more than 90 percent of people have a cataract and that half of people between ages 75 and 85 have lost some vision due to a cataract. By age 80, 1 in 8 people have glaucoma, according to an Australian study. In the U.S., African Americans are at particularly high risk. Still, as ominous as these statistics sound, many vision problems can be treated — and in some cases prevented — by following some simple, healthy habits.
1. Wear sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection
Our skin isn’t the only casualty of daily UV exposure. Those invisible rays up your chances of getting cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens that typically occurs with aging. Look for sunglasses with a label that says “100 percent protection against both UVA and UVB” or “100 percent protection against UV 400.”
“A dark lens that does not filter out the UV properly is actually worse than no lens at all,” says Andrea Thau, past president of the American Optometric Association and a New York City-based optometrist, “because that dark tint makes your pupil dilate and invites more UV radiation to enter the eye.” Also, look for glasses that have a uniform tint.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, consider wraparound sunglasses that protect from UV rays that can sneak in around the sides of the sunglasses. If you’re in contact with airborne materials — by cutting wood, for instance, or mowing grass — consider safety glasses or protective goggles.
2. Eat right
Carrots may get all the press, but it’s those dark-green leafy vegetables (think spinach, kale, collard greens) that are vision-protecting powerhouses. They are full of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Experts suggest these nutrients may block high-energy blue light, which can harm retinal cells, helping to protect vision and prevent the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Eggs are another excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin. Add more color to your plate with carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and red bell peppers. These orange and red veggies are rich in beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A, which is essential for good vision.
There’s also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids — found in salmon, tuna and sardines — can increase oil production, helping to prevent dry eye. “Omega-3 supplements have also shown to be helpful,” says Davinder S. Grover, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist in Dallas. Not wild about seafood? Nibble on nuts, legumes or seeds.
If your diet is missing key vitamins or nutrients, or if you have a diagnosed deficiency, ask your doctor about supplements. Research has shown that a specific kind of high-dose dietary supplement, called AREDS, may be beneficial in patients with intermediate age-related macular degeneration, slowing its progression and preventing it from turning to late AMD.
Couch potatoes, take note. A Swedish study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, examined a possible link between specific types of physical activity, including walking, and a reduced risk of age-related cataracts in 52,660 participants between the ages of 45 and 83. Hoofing it more than 60 minutes a day — versus hardly ever — was associated with a decreased risk of cloudy lenses. Conversely, high inactivity levels may be associated with an increased risk. Another eye-opener: According to research from the University of California Los Angeles, brisk walking may also lower your risk of getting glaucoma, with the most active among us having a 73 percent lower risk than the least active.