By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
There are over 76 million baby boomers today over the age of 50 and the first of the 82.1 million Generation X-ers are turning 50 in 2015. Aging is a process that brings many changes and baby boomers, as well as gen x-ers, share an interest in staying active, vibrant, and independent as long as possible.
Traveling, biking, boating, kayaking, hiking, learning new skills and many other exciting activities become very difficult without healthy vision. Taking steps to maintain healthy vision as we age is one of the most critical things we can do to ensure our activity options remain virtually limitless. Follow these tips for healthy vision all year and enjoy healthy aging for the years to come:
#1. Get a Comprehensive Dilated Eye Exam in September
Starting at the age of 40, getting an annual dilated eye exam with an ophthalmologist is the most important step you can take – even if you have no vision problems. So take the month of September to celebrate healthy aging by calling your ophthalmologist for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. A comprehensive eye exam isn’t the same as your basic eye exam for glasses or contacts. During a comprehensive dilated eye exam your eye doctor will check for signs of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, along with other eye conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment helps to prevent vision loss and is instrumental in enjoying life into the ages.
#2. Protect Your Eyes with Sunglasses and a Hat
We know what the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays do to our skin, but we often forget they also have a damaging effect on our eyes – causing cataracts and contributing to the acceleration of macular degeneration. Although sunglasses with UV protection help to protect our eyes, wearing a wide-brimmed hat while enjoying outdoor activities will provide the extra protection to keep your eyes aging healthy and supporting your active lifestyle. And don’t forget – UV rays occur throughout the year so don’t put away the shades when the temperatures drop.
#3. Reduce Eye Strain with Breaks and More Sleep
Although eye strain isn’t a vision disease or disorder, it can cause headaches, fatigue and occasionally itchy eyes – which contributes to rubbing. Eye rubbing exacerbates dry eye syndrome and ocular irritation. In order to reduce eye strain, take breaks from reading, driving, and looking at screens by focusing your eyes on something else every 20 minutes for about 20 seconds. Another step we can take to reduce eye strain is to get enough sleep. Being overtired increases eye strain while a healthy evening dose of sleep can keep our eyes ready for another active day.
#4. Stop Smoking
Studies show that smoking increases the risk of developing vision problems including macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eyes. Taking the month of September to get help in kicking the habit could be one of the most important things you could ever do to ensure healthy aging for your body and your vision.
#5. Take Advantage of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Choosing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help keep your eyes healthy and disease free. Studies suggest that the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin may help lower the risk of eye conditions, such as cataracts and macular degeneration that can accompany aging. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in fruits and vegetables with yellow and orange pigments, such as corn, squash, carrots, and citrus fruits. They are also found in dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, collard greens and spinach. This September (and into the fall) take advantage of harvest time and visit one of the many farmers’ markets in the area to purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables.
#6. Enjoy Exercise to Maintain a Healthy Weight
Many eye diseases are linked to high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. Exercise can help keep these problems at bay or limit their impact if they do occur. Recent studies have shown that people who exercise regularly were less likely to develop serious eye disease.