Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity can help lower blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. Evidence also suggests that aerobic exercise can help sufferers of glaucoma by lowering intraocular eye pressure. According to Harry A. Quigley, M.D., professor and director of glaucoma services at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, “…short term studies show [exercise] improves blood flow to the retina and optic nerve as well.” Interestingly, you don’t have to exercise vigorously to lower intraocular pressure. Raising your pulse just 20 to 25 percent for 20 minutes at least four times per week is enough to make a positive impact. This could be accomplished by just walking briskly (Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation).
Most physical activity is beneficial for lowering eye pressure, but recent studies are now showing that some exercises like yoga could be detrimental to glaucoma sufferers. A 2013 study led by Jessica Jasein, Gustavo de Moraes and Robert Ritch found that 4 yoga poses increased pressure on the eyes because they require the head to be in a downward-facing position (Source: Examiner). These poses, when held for a minimum of two minutes, were the most harmful:
- Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Viparita Kirani
During the study, the research team measured intraocular pressure five times: baseline, immediately as they formed the pose, two minutes into the pose, seated immediately after the pose, and 10 minutes after the pose. Of all the poses, the downward facing dog caused pressure spikes more than any other pose. As a precaution, the team advised that glaucoma patients should avoid all full inversions like headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, and forearm stands.
Exercise is still recommended for glaucoma patients because most physical activity has proven to be effective in lowering intraocular pressure. Just remember to keep your head elevated at all times while you exercise. If you enjoy yoga, talk to your doctor about other poses to avoid so that you do not increase optic nerve strain. Remember, there is no cure for glaucoma, so it is up to you to preserve your vision. Leave the downward facing dog pose to the canines themselves. Keep that head up—and keep exercising!