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Simple habits to help protect your vision for life

Woman using eye drops for an article on healthy vision

Little tweaks to what you eat, how you sleep and more can make a big difference in your eye health. Here’s what you need to know.

Each of your five senses brings something special to how you experience life. But if you had to rank them, eyesight would likely be at the top. And the thought of losing it can bring all sorts of stress. In fact, more than 90% of those over age 50 are worried about having eye issues. And 83% say they fear losing their sight more than any other sense because it would impact their independence more than the loss of any other sense.1

Those types of concerns can loom large at any age, according to Teresa Stone, OD. She’s an optometrist at Reliant Medical Group, part of Optum, in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Chances are, the numbers would look the same for all ages, especially if you have a family member with eye health issues,” she says. “We take the eyes for granted, typically because they just work.”

There are ways to lower your chance of having problems in the future, though, she adds. Here are some top habits to give your eyes what they need.

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Cut screen time when possible

Smartphones, laptops and TVs are tough on your eyes, Stone says. The eyes have a series of muscles used for focus, movement and alignment. Those muscles get rest only when we look out into the distance, she adds.

Imagine doing biceps curls all day, every day. At some point, those muscles will start to break down instead of building up. The same can happen with the small muscles in the eyes. Stone suggests following the 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes of reading or onscreen work, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. “This is important at all ages, even for teenagers (and kids),” she says.

Stay on top of medical problems

Your 40s and 50s are a prime time for new health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure. Those can affect eye health.2 In fact, an early warning sign for both is a change in your vision.

Managing diabetes and blood pressure can go a long way toward protecting your eyes. Let your eye doctor know about any health concerns. And be sure to share the medications you take.

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Eat for eye health

Sure, you can crunch on carrots if you love them. But any colorful fruit or vegetable can help nourish and protect your eyes. That’s because they’re loaded with antioxidants. They can help prevent damage to your cells, lowering your risk of eye pain, redness and vision loss.5

Plus, following the Mediterranean diet can cut the risk of blurred or reduced central vision. That’s an eye problem called age-related macular degeneration. It’s a leading cause of severe vision loss among U.S. adults over age 50.3 The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, as well as healthy fats like olive oil. Fish, poultry and dairy are included in small amounts.

Get quality sleep

You can protect your vision even when you’re sleeping. Healthy, uninterrupted sleep allows eyes to replenish moisture. Also, eyes clear out irritants like dust and allergens while you sleep. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, that cleaning may not happen like it should.2

Don't smoke

Smoking is one of the risk factors we have the most control over, Stone says. Kicking the habit will help lower your chance of macular degeneration. And it may help protect against cataracts, which cause a clouding in the eye that makes it hard to see.4 Stone adds that if vision issues like macular degeneration run in your family, you're more likely to have them yourself. Smoking can raise those odds even more. 

Take care of dry eye

To be at their best, eyes need moisture. But as you age, the chances of developing dry eye get higher.2 The issue is usually treated with over-the-counter or prescription eye drops called artificial tears. You might see the word “lubricant” on the bottle. These work when blinking is not enough to moisturize the eyes.

“Think of it like lotion,” says Stone. “If you reapply and use it regularly, you should start to see and feel a difference.”

Stock up on all your health essentials in one swoop at the Optum Store. From artificial tears to pain relievers to sunscreen to vitamins, we have you covered. And don’t forget to use your HSA/FSA funds to save even more. Shop now.

Schedule an exam

An annual exam is important for your eye health. That’s especially true if you have concerns, says Stone. Your eye doctor can see early signs of issues you may not be aware of. They may notice changes in eye pressure or the tissue inside your eyes. Or they might suggest a new prescription for your reading glasses.

“Sometimes, an exam will just be a healthy eye visit where we go over genetic risk factors. It will help determine if annual or biannual exams make the most sense for you,” says Stone.

The sooner you start caring for your eyes every day, the better your chances of having good vision for years to come.

 

SOURCES

  1. AARP. Vision 2020. March 2020. June 28, 2022.
  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Tips for eye health in adults 40 to 65. September 2, 2020. Accessed June 26, 2022.
  3. American Optometric Association. The many benefits of the Mediterranean diet. May 4, 2020. Accessed June 26, 2022.
  4. National Eye Institute. 8 things you can do right now to protect your vision. Last updated April 23, 2021. Accessed June 26, 2022.
  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Diet and nutrition. Published November 20, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2022.

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