Many people think of eye exams as only being necessary for those who have glasses or contacts, but this is far from the truth. The American Optometric Association recommends that everyone have an eye exam every two years. Patients 61 and older and people who wear glasses and contact lenses should have their eyes examined annually. If you have a family history of eye diseases, have had a prior eye surgery, work in a hazardous occupation, or have diabetes or high blood pressure, you may need more frequent exams.
Your eyes are one of the few places where doctors can clearly see an unobstructed view of your blood vessels, so getting regular vision exams can actually help detect early warning signs for diseases, particularly heart disease and brain arterial disease. Recent research suggests that age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over 50, shares a similarity with atherosclerosis. Both of these problems involve the buildup of fat and cholesterol in the eye’s blood vessels. As plaque builds in the vessels of the eye, it interferes with vision. What some patients assume is just normal aging may be a sign of vascular disease.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle isn’t only about staving off heart disease; it’s about feeling young and staying healthy well into your senior years. To protect your peepers — and to keep the rest of you healthy, too — keep your weight, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure in check. You can do that by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, avoiding stripped carbohydrates and processed and saturated fats, and quitting smoking.
Besides the heart health tips that also help your vision, you can also do a few eye-specific things to stay healthy. Eat plenty (at least three servings per week) of dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, or collard greens; wear sunglasses outdoors in bright sun; and never skip regular eye exams.