Exercise can reverse damage to the eye offering hope of preventing and treating glaucoma

Exercise can reverse damage to the eye offering hope of preventing and treating glaucoma

EXERCISE can protect the eye against disease and reverse the impact of ageing, offering hope of tackling vision loss and blindness.

For the first time Melbourne researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia have shown the protective effects of exercise on vision.

The findings indicate physical exercise could provide a safe, non-invasive and cost-effective way to prevent glaucoma.

It’s the most common form of irreversible blindness, which one in eight Australians over 80 will develop.

Worldwide there are an estimated 60 million glaucoma cases.

Dr Vicki Chrysostomou and colleagues found that exercise could be beneficial not just in preventing the eye disease, but perhaps also as a treatment.

Dr Chrysostomou said they found exercise both before the injury and after the injury was protective.

“In animal models we have shown that exercise is still protective, even if it’s after injury or damage to the retina, which is quite exciting,” she said.

“It indicates that exercise can be used not only as a preventative measure before injury, but also as a therapeutic aid applied after injury and that’s more relevant in a clinical situation because patients already have eye disease.”

She said exercise would not be a viable option for all patients, but they had begun researching the exact mechanisms of its protective effect in the hope of finding a way to mirror the effect with drugs.

“The exercise pill may not actually be as science fiction as it sounds,” she said.

Dr Chrysostomou said the benefit of exercise on many aspects of our health had been well established, but until now there had been no evidence that it could have a positive effect on vision.

“It has been shown that exercise can protect nerve cells in the brain during ageing, after injury and in neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease so we wanted to find out if it also had a protective effect on vision,” she said.

As part of the study they got old mice to swim 60 minutes a day for five days a week over a six-week period.

Then they looked at how the mice responded to an optic nerve injury, which mimics what occurs in glaucoma.

Their findings, published in the Neurobiology of Ageing journal, found the eyes had an improved function after the injury in animals that had been exercised in comparison to those that had normal sedentary conditions.

“We have also found that exercise almost completely reversed age-related vulnerability of the optic nerve to injury so that exercised aged mice had a similar functional response to injury as non-exercised young mice.”

Dr Chrysostomou said they need to establish the type, amount and duration of exercise that is most beneficial.

The team is also hoping to extend their trial to humans.