Aerobic Exercise for Neuroprotection

Many glaucoma patients ask their doctors, "What else can I do to help preserve my vision?" One answer may be to get off the couch—and get moving.

"Aerobic exercise is known to lower intraocular pressure (IOP), which we know protects retinal ganglion cells," says Harry A. Quigley, MD, professor and director of glaucoma services at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "And short-term studies show it may improve blood flow to the retina and optic nerve as well."

What's interesting to note is that in order to achieve a positive neuroprotective effect, you don't have to exercise rigorously. IOP can be lowered by exercise that raises the pulse just 20-25% --that could be a brisk walk -- for 20 minutes, a minimum of four times a week.

"Exercise is free, so the price is right, and glaucoma patients should be encouraged to begin an aerobic program after getting consent from their internal medicine physician," advises Dr. Quigley.

And of course, regular exercise brings a host of other benefits, including improving blood pressure, heart function, and making it easier to keep your weight down.

And what of the neuroprotective effects claimed by the manufacturers of some topical glaucoma medications? "There is no evidence that any topical glaucoma medicines can save nerve cells in humans," says Dr. Quigley, after a review of the available literature on this topic. "Both patients and doctors need to be alert to false claims."

Last reviewed on April 24, 2012

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