January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss in the United States, affecting 3 million people. Vision loss from glaucoma occurs when eye pressure is too high and damages the fibers of the optic nerve. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, there are surgical treatments and medications that can help preserve vision and delay glaucoma progression.
Research suggests that regular exercise may lower intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients, but certain workout routines can have the opposite effect. Exercises in the inverted or head-down position can cause spikes in eye pressure and translate stress to the optic nerve. In a recent study, people with healthy eyes and people with glaucoma both experienced an increase in intraocular pressure while doing yoga poses such as downward facing dog, standing forward bend and plow. Even after ten minutes, intraocular pressure remained slightly elevated (Source: All About Vision).
First Steps to a Glaucoma-Friendly Workout Plan
If you have glaucoma, it is important to know how to exercise safely and modify activities to be glaucoma-friendly. Here are some tips to help prevent spikes in eye pressure while you work out:
- If you are considering a new workout program, talk to your ophthalmologist. Ask for suggestions regarding exercise type, intensity and activities to avoid.
- Start slowly and simply. Choose exercises that are easy and have a low risk of injury. If you are not sure where to start, try brisk walking, swimming or stationary cycling.
- Meet with a personal trainer. Even just a session or two with a personal trainer can be incredibly helpful when creating a glaucoma-friendly workout routine.
- Talk to a fitness instructor. If you participate in exercise classes at the local YMCA or health club, talk to the instructor before your next class. Ask for alternatives to inverted exercises.
Elevated intraocular pressure is the most common risk factor for glaucoma-related eye damage, and it often leads to vision loss. Care for your eyes while you work out, and do not be afraid to ask for help from the experts. Celebrate Glaucoma Awareness Month by making an appointment with a board-certified ophthalmologist. You will get a full evaluation of your vision and eye health, and your doctor can suggest activities that are safe for your type of glaucoma.