Walking Could Keep Our Eyes Sharp As We Age


Walking requires little effort and is the most affordable and accessible form of exercise. It requires no equipment and no experience, and although it may not be the biggest calorie-burner, it affects the brain in a different way.

Light or low intensity exercise can boost vision, according to a new study. When performing physical activity that does not require a high amount of effort, it is possible that the exercise may even help to prevent blindness.

Credit: Lisa Padilla/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

To discover the effects of different types of exercise on the brain, 18 participants were asked to wear heart rate monitors and complete an orientation task. They performed this task while exercising on a stationary bicycle, at both low and high intensity bouts of activity. This was repeated and the information then analyzed by a computer.

The results of the low-intensity exercise orientation test showed stimulation of the visual cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for processing what the eyes see. This is a confirmation of previous research done in mice.

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At the Emory University in 2014, a team of researchers concluded that exercise helped to prevent mice from going blind. The retinas of the mice were prevented from degeneration through aerobic exercise. Since macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults, the researchers urged further research to be done.

“This research may lead to tailored exercise regimens or combination therapies in treatments of retinal degenerative diseases,” said Machelle Pardue, author of the Emory University study. “Possibly in the near future, ophthalmologists could be prescribing exercise as a low-cost intervention to delay vision loss.”

Now, their findings have been confirmed to some degree. Professor Barry Giesbrecht, author of the recent study using human subjects, said, “We show that the increased activation – what we call arousal – changes how information is represented, and it’s much more selective. That’s important to understand because how that information then gets used could potentially be different.”

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Interestingly, the same effect was not seen in high-intensity exercises. They have not identified the mechanism through which this effect occurs, but have been able to reconstruct the reaction of the neurons in the brain to determine how they were affected with each type of exercise. The visual cortex, through low-intensity exercise, proved more receptive to stimulus and was therefore boosted.

With what is being called a “global epidemic of blindness” in the near future, Giesbrecht stresses the importance of exercise as a preventative treatment. “In fact, the benefits of brief bouts of exercise might provide a better and more tractable way to influence information processing — versus, say, brain training games or meditation — and in a way that’s not tied to a particular task,” he told reporters.