Full disclosure: I’m wearing glasses as I write this. In fact, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to see the words clearly on my computer screen. This out-of-focus world has become a fact of life for me ever since I turned 40. Not only am I dependent on my glasses to stare at my computer screen, but also to read the fine type on any packaging—and even just stare at my dinner plate!
Needless to say, I never leave home without my reading glasses. And, I’m actually finding that I have them wear more and more these days!
But, come to find out, I’m not alone. Statistics show that, by the age of 50, if you haven’t worn glasses, you’re probably going to need your first pair. If, like me, you already own reading glasses, this is when you start to need a stronger prescription.
The reason behind this is kind of fascinating: it’s not (as I thought) that our eyes “deteriorate” as we get older. Thank goodness for this! It’s actually because the lens of our eye is still growing (it’s actually the only part of our eye that continues to grow as we get older)—but our ability to adapt to this changing lens is what’s slowing down, causing the world to become a little out of focus.
And, while you can’t change this natural process (other than getting glasses), there are some things you can do every day to protect the health of your eyes—and your vision. The fact of the matter is: 80 percent of vision loss is preventable if you maintain good eye health. (Needless to say, I’m already incorporating all of these tips into my routine!)
Take a break from your computer. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time at my computer, but the one thing I didn’t realize: how little I blink when I’m staring at the screen. This is a problem. We blink, on average, about 12 times every minute—but not while we’re at the computer where we typically stare straight ahead for sometimes hours. Blinking helps to wash tears over our eyeballs that keep them clean and moist—and prevent them from drying out.
What I do now: the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes at the computer, I look away 20 feet (basically at something in the distance) for 20 seconds.
Eat salmon. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids—found in foods like salmon, chia seeds, and flaxseed—in your diet every day helps support healthy eyes.* † (I eat salmon, but like to add chia seeds to my morning smoothies; you barely know they’re in there!). If you’re not a fish lover or find it hard to get omega-3s in your diet every day, omega-3 fatty acid supplements (like Centrum® ProNutrients® Omega-3) are a good option, in addition to your daily multivitamin.
See an eye doctor—every one or two years—even if you don’t have vision problems. Think about it this way: During any 24-hour period, our eyes will move about 100,000 times. That's equivalent to walking 50 miles every day! Getting a regular “physical” exam—with an eye doctor or ophthalmologist—is key to keeping your eyes in top form so they can continue to perform properly. Also, an eye doctor is the only one who can diagnose the most common diseases of the eye, like glaucoma. In some cases, he or she can even detect signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke risk in the blood vessels of the eye—long before they show up as symptoms in the rest of the body.
Get plenty of green, orange, and red fruits and veggies in your diet—every day. Sure, we’ve all heard that eating carrots is good for your eyesight. But what’s actually more important: a group of foods called carotenoids (of which carrots are part) that are key to vision. Carotenoids are nutrients that give an orange-yellow and red pigment to fruits and vegetables (think: mangoes, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and red grapefruit). These foods are all rich in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that helps produce pigments in the retina—key to seeing in the dark and poorly lit areas.
Carotenoids are found, too, in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. These leafy greens are also rich in nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin that scientists§ have discovered are found in the portion of the eye where light is focused by the lens.
Always wear a pair of sunglasses when outdoors. Look for lenses that block 99 to 100 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, without UV protection, your eyes are more vulnerable to diseases that cause vision loss— like macular degeneration and cataracts— as well as to cancers of the eyes and eyelid. UV glasses will also prevent eyestrain from squinting on bright, sunny days.
Forget 50 shades of grey. 500 shades of grey is what the average eye can distinguish…but not if your sunglasses have colored lenses. While grey lenses actually offer the truest color distinction (making it better for art lovers), brown lenses create greater color contrast in monotone surfaces like boating and ski slopes, and yellow lenses are better for depth perception—good for golfers and bicyclists. Polarized lenses—of any color—are good for driving and water/snow sports because they reduce glare, increasing visibility.
One last bit of advice before I sign off: eyes truly are the windows not only to body health—but also to the soul. Next time you meet up with someone, look him or her in the eye; that’s the best way to show him or her that you’re honest and interested in what they have to say. Stay well!
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