Aging is accompanied by many changes in your body, and your eyes are no exception. Some vision changes are expected with age. It can become harder to see things up close, or you may notice difficulty differentiating between some colors. Some people notice their eyes take longer to adjust when walking from light to dark rooms.i
But you can take steps to protect your eyes, starting at any age. Here's what you should know about aging and eye health.
Lifestyle Plays a Significant Role in Eye Health
A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in maintaining eye health even as we age. Some of the same lifestyle choices that help protect our hearts, brains, and bodies can also help keep our eyes healthy.
For example, one study found that women with high scores for a healthy diet had nearly a 50 percent lower chance of developing certain age-related eye conditions than those with a low score. Combining movement with diet and other health habits was even more protective, reducing the risk of eye problems by more than 70 percent.ii
So what exactly is a healthy lifestyle for aging eyes? Here's what to know:
A Healthy Diet Pattern Can Support Aging Eyes
Your eyes require nutrients in optimal amounts to function at their best.iii A diet with foods that contain antioxidants is crucial for eye health. Foods that contain antioxidants include brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, kale, tomatoes, and blueberries. iv
These nutrients scavenge damaging byproducts produced during normal metabolism called free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells in the body and cause oxidation. Oxidation is a natural process that happens when cells interact with oxygen. Too much oxidation can lead to cell damage which impacts your health.v
Antioxidants may support healthy eyes by reducing oxidation in the eye lens. Two powerful antioxidants that have been well studied for eye health are lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids found in high concentrations in the retina and lens of the eye.vi These organic pigments are believed to play a role in protecting the eye from damage caused by oxidative stress.vii viii
Carotenoids are believed to improve visual function and protect against age-related eye conditions.ix Foods high in lutein and zeaxanthin include kale, spinach, broccoli, and eggs.x Supplements may also be a way to get enough of these nutrients if you don't get enough from food or want a higher amount.
The Mediterranean diet is an example of a dietary pattern that includes antioxidants and other nutrients that are especially protective for aging eyes. xi This diet is low in processed foods and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil.
Nutrients like Zinc, Vitamin A, and Vitamin B2 Support Optimal Vision
Beyond eating healthy foods, you can prioritize specific vitamins and minerals to support eye health. For example, zinc, a mineral often associated with immune support, helps your eyes by carrying vitamin A to the retina.xii
Zinc (which also acts as an antioxidant) is needed in adequate amounts in the diet to support healthy vision.xiii Foods that contain zinc include shellfish (especially oysters), pumpkin seeds, or meat. But supplements can also help fill in any gaps.
Vitamin A is critical to eye health because it makes up rhodopsin, the pigment that helps you see in low light.xiv Many studies point to the importance of zinc and vitamin A in the diet, with higher intakes related to better age-related eye health.xv xvi
Some research also points towards an association between long-term vitamin A supplements and healthy vision.xvii Carrots usually top the vitamin A food list, but many vegetables like sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and leafy greens also contain vitamin A.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may also act as an antioxidant to help with oxidation in the eyes, as mentioned earlier.xviii Higher intake of riboflavin is linked to better age-related eye health.xix xx It's found in many foods, including dairy, meat, poultry, and supplements.xxi
Ultraviolet Light Exposure Can Damage Eyes
We think about limiting sun exposure because of the effects on the skin, but ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from the sun is also linked to age-related eye conditions.xxii The cumulative exposure to UV rays occurs over time. Still, damage can start early, so taking steps to protect your eyes from a young age is essential.
One way to do this is by wearing sunglasses outdoors, especially during the peak UV hours. A wide-brimmed hat can offer additional protection from the sun or snow's reflection.
Move Your Body for Eye Health
Exercise seems to benefit every aspect of health, including vision. Regular exercise is linked to healthy eyes and a lower risk of eye problems as you age.xxiii
One study found frequent (greater than three days a week) vigorous exercise was specifically helpful for eye health in women but not men.xxiv Another study found that men and women who ran an average of two to four kilometers (about one to two and a half miles) daily had an almost 20 percent lower risk of developing age-related eye conditions.xxv
Exercise could help by lowering eye pressure (called intraocular pressure) and increasing blood flow to keep your eyes healthy.xxvi It could also help by supporting reductions in inflammatory signaling molecules that could damage the eye.xxvii Plus, exercise also helps reduce the risk of other health conditions where problems with eyesight are a symptom.
Limit Eye Strain at Your Computer for Healthy Vision
It's hard to find someone who isn't looking at a computer, phone, or some type of screen for several hours each day, but too much eye strain from computer use isn't good for your eyes. You know that feeling where your eyes start hurting after watching a screen for too long? It's a signal that it's time to take a break.
A study on healthy college students found excess screen use increased feelings of tired or burning eyes.xxviii Over time too much computer can cause strain on the eyes and excess exposure to blue light. Blue light is a type of light emitted from screens with a short wavelength that can penetrate deep into the eye.xxix
Take eye breaks and look farther away from your screen every twenty to thirty minutes (or better yet, take a walk away from your computer). You can also try blue light blocking glasses that reduce the amount of blue light that hits your eyes.
Quit Smoking to Protect Your Eyes
Smoking is linked to a much higher risk of developing multiple eye problems associated with age. It could increase inflammation that could damage your eyes. xxx
Smoking may only exacerbate eye problems if you have any genetic predisposition to vision issues as you get older. xxxi It's not easy to stop, but you can talk with your doctor to find support to help you quit.
Take Steps to Protect Your Eyes Starting Today
A few simple lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of developing age-related eye conditions. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and not smoking are all good ways to help keep your eyes healthy as you age. Supplements can also be a helpful way to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need for eye health.
Make regular eye exams a part of your health routine, and talk to your doctor about any changes in your vision or concerns about your eye health.
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. She has a master's degree in nutrition and over ten years of experience as a registered dietitian.
+The views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Pure Encapsulations®.