In a previous Eye Health blog I discussed the nutritional aspects of how to keep your eyes healthy by listing the foods enriched with vitamin C, antioxidants and omega3, and what they do. But the journey toward eye health doesn’t stop there. In fact, movement, rest and gut health are also important and play a pivotal role in maintaining excellent sight and healthy eyes.
The Low Hanging Fruit…
A) Move! The benefits of movement when it comes to eye health are extensive, so I’ll keep this as brief as possible. First when I say movement it doesn't necessarily mean a hard charging workout. It means being mobile, walking, taking the stairs, getting up from your desk every hour and stretching, doing some squats etc. When we are sedentary our bodies are more inflamed and more prone to injury. Movement not only helps us maintain a healthy BMI, which can help prevent systemic diseases affecting eyesight, but it can also make us feel good. Get those endorphins working and in turn it can create a cascade of benefits. When we feel better we move more, we make better food choices, we spend time with loved ones etc.
TIP: Aim to move more! Whatever this means for you i.e. set a step goal of 10K steps/day, make a commitment to walk to/from work every day, or try a new workout class. Take time to stretch and mobilize to prevent injuries as well but don't be afraid to get your heart rate up.
B) Rest! Get enough sleep. This is where a lot of cellular repair happens. And when we think of rest we also have to think of resting our eyes. Especially from digital devices ie computers, smartphones etc. When we stare at screens our blink rate reduces significantly (from approx. 20 blinks/minute to 5 blinks/minute) and our eyes not only can get tired but dry as well. Looking at these screens before bed can also affect the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for proper sleep.
TIP: Ideally 2+ hours before bed let’s not only get ready to rest our bodies but rest our eyes by shutting down all devices. Listen to music or a podcast, take an epsom salt bath, read, journal, or chat with a friend or loved one. Create a bedtime routine that enhances your life away from devices and your eyes, your heart and your body will thank you for it.
C) Gut Check! Aim to think at every meal how can I support my friendly gut microbes :) These tiny but powerful little microbes play such a critical role in how we feel, how we look, and you guessed it, how well we see! You may have heard about the gut-brain axis but there is actually an eye-gut-brain axis. Dysbiosis, when your gut microbes are out of balance, is implicated in eye and systemic diseases associated with vision loss and other morbidites. Type 1 and 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, IBS, obesity, allergies, autism, colorectal cancer, rheumatological diseases, mood disorders such as depression, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis have all been related to dysbiosis.
An important fact is 70% of our immune cells are located in our gut and 95% of our serotonin (one of our feel-good hormones) is made in our gut. Therefore when we are eating a poor nutrient, low fiber diet we are prone to more illness and mood disturbances. Stress feeds the growth of harmful microbes and so it’s not necessarily all about the food we eat, or how we move but also how we feel, talk to ourselves, manage daily stressors that create a healthy gut. Ophthalmic conditions directly impacted by microbiome dysbiosis include neuroretinal conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Inflammatory eye conditions such as uveitis and Sjogrens disease have been implicated as well with dysbiosis.
When we think of all of this we need to go back and consider what we are putting in our bodies. If we are not fueling our microbes, we are fighting them. When they are angry our bodies fight back, and disease is born. For gut friendly foods and habits, I look to the gut guru, gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz and his New York Times best-selling book Fiber Fueled.
TIP: There are simple gut friendly hacks in this book that you can start adopting today. My biggest take-away is to eat a diversity of plants and plant-based foods for optimal gut health. Make it fun! Aim for 35+ different varieties within a week.
For example, when making a smoothie, don't use the same ingredients every time. Switch things up! For example, use blueberries, spinach, flax and hemp seeds one day and the next day, pineapple, apple, kale and chia seeds. When we eat this way, we feed our gut microbes a wide array of micronutrients and finer which feed our microbes and help them to thrive and maintain a healthy gut lining and environment. When our guts are happy, we will be happier humans all around.
In summary, we want to move often, make rest a priority and eat with intention. Prevention is powerful. It’s the small daily habits that will set your eyes and your body up for optimum performance.
Dr. Allison Ellis