Does marathon training improve your vision? 5 ways running boosts your eye health

20 January 2022

Author: Kate Green

marathons boost eyesight

Train your way to healthy eyes


January might be the start of the New Year, but for tens of thousands of people in the UK, January also marks the beginning of marathon training. With April being a common month for marathon races to take place, now is the perfect time to begin training. Whether you’re waking up early to squeeze in those miles, or cramming in a 10km jog on your lunch break, huge numbers of us are creating new routines all centred round our chosen marathon training plan.


While you’re out building those miles, it might be a comfort to consider all the positive impacts that marathon training can bring. We all know what running can do for our waistlines, but did you know that exercising can also bring benefits for your eyesight? We’re going to look into the top five ways in which running can boost your vision and improve your overall eye health. We hope this provides you with the motivation you need to hit your weekly mileage goal!


1. Running reduces your glaucoma risk by half


A number of studies have been carried out to analyse the relationship between running and eye health. Research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has shown that the most active participants had only half the risk of developing glaucoma at the least active participants. The fittest participants ran 10 miles a week at a pace of 10 minutes per mile, which was enough to significantly reduce their glaucoma risk. The chance of developing glaucoma is reduced with exercise as regular workouts can also reduce your eye pressure. High eye pressure is the main cause of glaucoma, so lower prevalence of glaucoma is found among people who exercise. This leads us onto our next point...


2. Exercise reduces eye pressure and blood pressure


Exercising regularly has been found to reduce your blood pressure, as well as your eye pressure. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in your retina (the back of your eye), causing hypertensive retinopathy. Symptoms of hypertensive retinopathy include a swollen macula, bleeding in the retina and narrowing blood vessels in the eye. Ensuring that you exercise regularly to manage your blood pressure will reduce your likelihood of developing hypertensive retinopathy.


A recent study looked at ‘the robustness of retinal vasculature’ which are the blood vessels that support eye function. Upon comparing 100 marathon runners to 46 non-active people, researchers noticed that the runners experienced benefits to their whole vascular system, particularly when it came to their retinal veins and arteries.


3. Reduce your cataract risk by 35%


Australian and Chinese researchers combined data from a range of studies to assess findings based on 171,000 participants. The studies followed participants who regularly took part in exercise like walking and cycling over a period of 6-12 years. Researchers found that the participants’ risk of developing cataracts was 10% lower among those who exercised more, and they even suggested that you could decrease your risk of developing cataracts by 2% for each hour spent running or cycling. Exercising reduces your oxidative stress levels – high levels are linked to the formation of cataracts – as regular physical activity over a long period helps more antioxidants reach your lenses to prevent oxidative damage.


A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made some very interesting findings: men who ran more than 5.7 miles a day lowered their risk of developing cataracts by 35%, compared to men who ran less than 1.4 miles a day. This is great news for all you long distance runners!


4. Runners have up to 54% lower risk of AMD


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition which involves the macula (the central part of your retina) deteriorating and beginning to affect your central vision. Data collected in the National Runners’ Health Study found that runners who completed an average of more than 2.4 miles a day lowered their risk of developing AMD by up to 54%. One possible explanation as to why running reduces your susceptibility to AMD is that exercise keeps your body “biologically young”, in turn reducing the impacts of AMD which are associated with ageing.


5. Running controls blood glucose levels


People who keep active and eat a healthy diet are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes and are also less likely to have high blood pressure. Both of these are risk factors for serious eye conditions. Diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy,  a condition in which high blood sugar levels damage the retina at back of the eye. If left untreated, this can result in blindness. Optometrists now advise their patients that exercise is vital to stave off a variety of eye diseases and conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, and that regular exercise such as running can help to control your blood glucose levels.


Even if it feels like your marathon training is draining the life out of you, just know that there are hidden benefits for your eyes. With cataract surgery being the most commonly performed surgery in the UK, and diabetic retinopathy cited as the leading cause of blindness in working age people, looking after your eye health has never been so important.

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