Certain lifestyle factors may reduce vision impairment risk

Mar 26, 2014

Physical activity and the occasional alcoholic libation may help decrease the risk of developing visual impairment, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Physical activity and the occasional alcoholic libation may help decrease the risk of developing visual impairment, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The researchers examined the relationships between the incidence of visual impairment and three modifiable lifestyle behaviours: smoking, drinking alcohol and staying physically active. The research was conducted as part of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a long-term, longitudinal, population-based cohort study of nearly 5,000 adults aged 43 to 84 years.

The researchers began with baseline examinations in 1988–1990 of 4,926 people. Follow-up examinations were conducted with 3,721 people in 1993–1995, 2,962 people in 1998–2000, 2,375 people in 2003–2005 and 1,913 people in 2008–2010.

The main outcome measured was change in number of letters read correctly and incidence of visual impairment based on best-corrected visual acuity as measured by a modified Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study protocol in the better eye.

The researchers found that over 20 years, visual impairment (sight loss that could not be corrected with glasses or contact lenses) developed in 5.4% of the overall study group. However, only 2% of people who engaged in regular physical activity three or more times per week developed visual impairment, compared to 6.7% of sedentary people. After adjusting for age, the data show a 58% decrease in risk for physically active people compared to those who were sedentary.

In addition, people who had enjoyed an occasional alcoholic beverage (less than one drink in an average week) had an age-adjusted 49% lower risk of developing visual impairment than non-drinkers. Among the occasional drinkers, 4.8% developed visual impairment, compared to 11% of non-drinkers.

"While age is usually one of the most strongly associated factors for many eye diseases that cause visual impairment, it is a factor we cannot change," said Dr Ronald Klein, MPH, lead researcher of the study. "Lifestyle behaviours like smoking, drinking and physical activity, however, can be altered. So, it's promising, in terms of possible prevention, that these behaviours are associated with developing visual impairment over the long-term. However, further research is needed to determine whether modifying these behaviours will in fact lead to a direct reduction in vision loss."

To read the full study, click here.

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