Glaucoma: Regular physical activity lowers the risk of glaucoma

Glaucoma: Regular physical activity lowers the risk of glaucoma

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Lifestyle affects glaucoma risk

Glaucoma, popularly known as the "glaucoma", is one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide, both in the industrialized nations and in the developing countries. The frequency of glaucoma increases with age. Experts are now reporting that exercise can help reduce the risk of illness.

According to a recent study, regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing a glaucoma. Sport could also slow the progression of eye problems, reports the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG) in a message. Various studies have shown a decrease in intraocular pressure after activities such as cycling or running, experts at the DOG explain. The most important measure to avert imminent loss of vision remains the early diagnosis by the ophthalmologist.

Half a million Germans are affected

Glaucoma is one of the most common causes of blindness not only in Germany. Around one million people in this country suffer from the disease, which damages the optic nerves. How fast the loss of vision progresses is determined by various influences. The biggest risk factor is increased intraocular pressure.

A prospective observational study of 9,519 men and women between the ages of 40 and 81 published in the journal "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise" has now shown that the rate of new cases of glaucoma is lower in sporty and physically active people than in inactive people

"This effect was evident in the almost six-year observation phase even if other factors such as nutrition, alcohol consumption or smoking had been taken into account that often go hand in hand with the fitness level," explains Professor Dr. med. Hagen Thieme, Director of the Eye Clinic at Magdeburg University Hospital.

Exercise lowers intraocular pressure

The DOG expert believes that a positive effect of sport in glaucoma is plausible. “Aerobic sports such as cycling or running temporarily lower the intraocular pressure, as many studies have shown,” says Thieme. "Depending on the previous sporting intensity, the drop lasted between ten minutes and two and a half hours," explains the DOG expert.

Another beneficial effect: the optic nerve head has been shown to be better supplied with blood in athletic people. Movement also stimulates a wide range of neuronal repair mechanisms in the brain.

“This has been proven for some diseases of the central nervous system, such as stroke. It is conceivable that it also applies to nerve cells and fibers on the optic nerve head, ”says Thieme. These factors could explain why sporty people are less likely to get glaucoma.

Precaution and early diagnosis

It has not yet been sufficiently investigated whether exercise also helps to stop an existing glaucoma disease. A cross-sectional study of 141 glaucoma sufferers published in the journal "Ophthalmology" recently concluded that 1,000 additional steps per day delayed vision loss over the year. Overall, however, the effects were very small.

"If one assumed a protective effect under these conditions, patients would have to perform an additional 5000 steps or two hours of physical activity per day in order to reduce the annual visual deterioration in glaucoma disease by ten percent," explains the Magdeburg-based eye expert

Precaution and early diagnosis therefore remain of crucial importance. Because those affected often do not feel an increased intraocular pressure for a long time. When visual disturbances develop - failures in the central or external field of vision - the disease is usually already very advanced and must be treated with medication to prevent further damage.

"It therefore makes sense to have the optic nerve examined by an ophthalmologist from the age of 40, and an annual optic nerve check is advisable from the age of 60," recommends Thieme. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • German Ophthalmological Society: Glaucoma and lifestyle: Sporty people are less likely to develop glaucoma, (accessed: July 15, 2020), German Ophthalmological Society
  • Nathan F Meier, Duck-Chul Lee, Xuemei Sui, Steven N Blair: Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Incident Glaucoma; in: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, (published: 2018 Nov; 50 (11): 2253-2258), Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
  • Lee, Moon Jeong et al .: Greater Physical Activity Is Associated with Slower Visual Field Loss in Glaucoma; in: Ophthalmology, (published: 07/01/2019), Ophthalmology

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