Exercise’s link to retinal disease

April 23, 2014
New research shows simple exercise has a direct effect on retinal health and vision

Exercise can help with weight loss, fitness and general disease prevention. But according to new research, there may be another reason to get moving: preventing the progression of retinal diseases.

In the study, "Aerobic Exercise Protects Retinal Function and Structure from Light-Induced Retinal Degeneration" (The Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 34, No. 7, P. 2406), researchers examined the effects of moderate aerobic workouts on damaged nerve cells in the retina.

To test the effect, researchers exposed mice to toxic bright light after the mice had run on a treadmill for a set period of time. Comparing their analysis both before and after this exercise, the researchers found it preserved the photoreceptors and function of retinal cells.

In the future, this could be good news for patients with retinal diseases. It might lead to new programs designed to treat and slow age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for example. According to the Macular Degeneration Association, AMD affects more than 11 million Americans older than age 40. It also is one of the top causes of blindness in the aging population.

Researchers also note that this study is the first of its kind. Many studies in the past have focused on how exercise affects neurodegenerative diseases, but they have not looked specifically at vision-related disorders.

"This is the first report of simple exercise having a direct effect on retinal health and vision," researcher Machelle Pardue, Ph.D., Emory University, says. "This research may one day lead to tailored exercise regimens or combination therapies in treatments of blinding diseases."

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