In addition to a healthy heart, running may also help to promote healthy eyes.
There are many obvious benefits that we get from working out and staying active―a lowered risk of diabetes and heart attack, a decrease in obesity and all of the negative health problems that are associated with it, more energy and strength, and just an improved overall quality of life. However, according to a recent study, the health benefits of running may actually extend far past our physical health.
Running has long been a great cardio activity for any person or athlete who wants to get their heart pumping and their muscles moving. However, for the last 18 years, Paul Williams, Ph.D., has followed 55,000 runners as part of a National Runners’ Health Study to examine the association of running with different health risks and body parts. Recently, his focus has been exclusively on the eyes.
Through three separate studies―one in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, two in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science―Williams has found that running may actually help to lower your risk of developing cataracts, which are the clouding of the eye’s lens typically found in older adults. He believe this is due to the fact that aerobic exercise may reduce intraocular pressure, the fluid pressure behind the eye. There has also been a similar link to the reduction of glaucoma and macular degeneration in runners.
However, what Williams really focuses on throughout his recent studies is the “dose-response” relationship which was evident between running and health. In other words, the father and faster than participants ran, the greater the benefits. He also found that the faster the runner’s best 10K time, the lower their risk. In fact, there were no reported cases of glaucoma for runners who could run 10K faster than 33:20!
During his cataract research specifically, Williams found that participants whose energy expenditure from running was the equivalent of averaging more than five miles a day had a 41% lower risk of developing cataracts.
The formula for discovering energy expenditure among study participants was measured in term of METs (or “metabolic equivalent”), which gives activities a value in relation to how much energy you expend while participating in that activity, compared to the energy you expel while sitting still. For example, walking at a decent pace is usually around 3 METs. However, running at 10:00 mile pace is typically valued around 10 METs. (That is, it takes 10x as much energy to run at that pace as it does to sit on your couch.)
There are several reasons mechanisms that may help to explain why the more active people in the study had the lowest risk of developing cataracts. One possibility is that many lifestyle-related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity, have been linked to developing cataracts, and being highly active can forestall those conditions.
Therefore, if you needed yet another reason to consider running and being active, consider the above benefits that Paul Williams suggests. Cataracts and glaucoma are dangerous vision diseases that affect many people over the age of 60. Whatever steps we can take early on to help prevent these problems from forming are worth trying out.