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Dry, Itchy Eyes? Move More, Study Suggests

Even a single exercise session can help your eye health, according to new research.

man running up outdoor stairs
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  • If you’re struggling with dry, itchy, burning eyes, aerobic exercise can help, new research shows.
  • Exercise plays a role in better blood circulation and reduced inflammation, both of which affects eye health.

    Maybe you stare at small, glowing screens just a little too much every day, or you’re not as hydrated as you could be, or you’re dealing with issues like hormone changes, aging, low humidity, or allergies. No matter what the cause, you might be struggling with dry, itchy, burning eyes. But there could be an easy fix, according to a new study in the journal Experimental Eye Research. Go for a run.

    Researchers split 52 participants into two groups: One did exercise sessions on a treadmill five times per week while the other did a single weekly treadmill run. Eye exams were done right before and right after each session, with a focus on changes in what’s called “tear film.”

    Quick anatomy refresher: Tear film is produced when we blink, and hydrates the surface of the eye in a thin layer that protects against irritants like dust. When tear film production is reduced, that creates dry spots where those particles can land on the eye’s surface and cause dryness and itching.

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    In the recent study, those doing more exercise saw greater consistency in their tear film production, but even participants running only once a week got a boost, according study to co-author Heinz Otchere, Ph.D.(c), a researcher in vision science at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

    “This indicates that a single session of exercise can have benefits for your eyes,” he told Runner’s World. “That means if you’re experiencing eye dryness, from an activity like too much screen usage, aerobic exercise can be a great strategy to address it rather than relying on eye drops all the time.”

    The effect of exercise is tied to how activity plays a role in better blood circulation, said Otchere, which affects your eyes as much as the rest of your body. He added that exercise has also been linked to lower inflammation in general, which offers another boost to eye heath.

    Added to that, previous research indicates exercise has shown to improve what’s called intraocular pressure, which is the measure of how fluid pressure is maintained between the back part and the front part of your eye. Because of that, a 2018 study in the journal Eye suggests exercise can help prevent several eye conditions like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, which are all associated with lower activity levels.

    “The takeaway from our research and previous studies is that exercise can lead to significant improvement in eye health, and the more activity you get, the greater that improvement becomes,” said Otchere.

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