There’s no question that many of us stress endlessly about our weight, our skin, and our overall physical well-being. But what about our eyes? Though these organs are vital and very sensitive, we tend to overlook them because we’re under the delusion that loss of eyesight is inevitable and therefore something that requires serious attention only later in life. But take note now—eyes are just as important as, if not more important than, any other part of our body. By making certain critical lifestyle choices now, as well as taking preventive measures to defend ourselves against common optical ailments, we can protect our peepers for years to come.
The Brighter, the Better: Vitamin A
You may remember your grandmother telling you that carrots are good for your eyes. Well, she was right—carrots are rich in vitamin A, which is perhaps best known for its role in preserving and improving eyesight. This premium nutriment promotes eyes’ ability to adjust to light changes (especially the ability to retain night vision), keeps eyes moist (which aids in acuity), and assists in preventing cataracts, as well as blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, which is the leading culprit of vision loss for people age sixty-five and older. Other vegetables and fruits that contain high concentrations of vitamin A are apricots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, turnip greens, red bell peppers, collard greens, Swiss chard, mangoes, papayas, and pumpkin.
It Packs a Punch: Vitamin C
This powerful antioxidant, found in everything from oranges to tomatoes, has been shown to reduce glaucoma-related pressure, slow macular degeneration, and reduce the risk of cataracts. Antioxidants like vitamin C counter tissue oxidation and cellular destruction—even in the eyes. Fruits and vegetables containing copious amounts of vitamin C include red bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, kale, and tomatoes.
Go for the Green: Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Popeye liked to eat spinach because it made his biceps strong, but it must have worked wonders for his peepers, too, as it contains two other essential antioxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin. These supercarotenoids protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals by filtering UV rays; they may also guard against glaucoma and cataracts. While the highest concentration of lutein is found in spinach, these other foods are also exceptional sources: eggs, peas, corn, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, zucchini, collard and turnip greens, and avocados.
Superfood: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There seems to be no end to the attention omega-3 fatty acids get these days, and studies indicate they play a key role in healthy vision, too. Researchers say this popular macronutrient may protect eyes by preventing buildup of plaque in the arteries or by reducing inflammation and other cell damage in the retinas. And a 2007 Archives of Ophthalmology study found that “people who eat at least two servings of fish weekly are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration.” Foods that deliver ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, halibut, shrimp, tofu, snapper, scallops, and winter squash.
Yoga Eyes: Yes, It’s Good for Your Orbital Muscles, Too
You may have heard of yoga toes, but how about yoga eyes? There’s a series of yoga moves you can do to strengthen the orbital muscles and add years of clear contemplation.
Each of your eyes requires the use of six different muscles, so, just like the rest of the muscles in your body, this group can also benefit from a little bit of a workout. Eye exercises may be especially important for people who spend many successive hours staring at a computer monitor each day. Here’s one to try out:
1) Without moving your head at all, choose a point you can see from the right corner of your eyes when you raise them, and another from the left corner when you lower them, keeping the lids half closed. Be sure to pay attention to your posture: spine erect, hands on knees, head straight and still.
2) Look to the point in the upper-right corner, then to the one in the lower-left corner. Repeat this movement four times. Blink several times. Close your eyes. Relax.
3) Repeat the same movement in reverse. Then blink, close your eyes, and relax again.
Up in Smoke: It’s Not Hard to See Why This One’s a No-No
Smoking cigarettes is on every other list of “don’ts,” and eye health is no exception. Smoke produces free radicals that can damage the cells in your body—including the cells in your eyes. Studies have shown that smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers are. Smoking has also been linked to the early development of cataracts. Two other major vision-related diseases linked to smoking are color-perception deficits and diabetic retinopathy.
Sun Protection: Not Just for Your Skin
If you need another excuse to drop a pretty penny on those Wayfarers, keep this in mind: spending extended periods of time in the sun sans shades puts you at risk of irreversibly damaging your eyes. A 2004 study found that people who spent a considerable amount of time in the summer sun in their teens and thirties and after age forty were twice as likely to develop an early form of AMD than those who stayed out of the sun. The study also suggested that wearing sunglasses and hats greatly reduces sun-related risks.
While we may never be able to hold on to our picture-perfect eyesight forever, if we recognize the need to take special care of our eyes early in life, we may be able to prolong our range of vision well into our golden years.