Over three million Americans have glaucoma; only half know about it, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. There may be no symptoms in the early stages, so many people don't find out they have it until significant damage has been done to the retina. Since aerobic exercise is increasing in popularity, a research team in Greece decided to investigate whether there should be any restrictions on exercise for glaucoma patients with increased intraocular pressure.
The researchers studied 145 subjects divided into seven groups, as follows:
1. Normal eye pressure, no eye drops
2. Normal eye pressure, timolol maleate (beta blocker) drops in one eye
3. Normal eye pressure, latanoprost (prostaglandin analog) drops in one eye
4. Normal eye pressure, brimonidine tartrate (alpha agonist) drops in one eye
5. Glaucoma, timolol maleate drops in both eyes
6. Glaucoma, latanoprost drops in both eyes
7. Glaucoma, combination anti-glaucoma drops in both eyes
The exercise routine was 10 minutes of bicycle ergometer at 60 to 80 watts, with a target heart rate of 110 per minute.
The results were pleasantly surprising: intraocular pressure decreased significantly for all seven groups when measured before and after exercise. The authors note, “It is obvious that these patients should be encouraged to perform aerobic exercise.”
All glaucoma patients in this study had primary open angle glaucoma, which is the most common variety. Other types include pigmentary, congenital and juvenile glaucoma. Since these conditions were not studied, the authors advise caution for such patients in their exercise programs.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation also cautions that normal pressure is not a guarantee against glaucoma. Normal Tension Glaucoma can be diagnosed by examination of the optic nerve in a standard eye exam. For any type, early detection and treatment can usually preserve vision. Good nutrition and exercise are part of the therapy recommended by this organization.
The one caution in exercise is that physical activities with inverted positions, that is, head down, may not be safe. Headstands and some yoga positions qualify.