Macular Degeneration, Exercise, and Social Distancing

Has spring arrived in your part of the country? In my little corner of the world, the sun is shining, the flowers blooming. As I write this, social distancing is still in effect, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay indoors. Fresh air and sunshine is the best prescription for any health concern.

Morning walks

But being asked to stay home during this COVID-19 crisis has put a damper on my regular morning walks. I normally do about a brisk five-mile walk in the mornings with a wonderful group of friends. This includes great conversation as well as exercise and fresh air. The walk, or hike, as it really should be called, is always followed by coffee and a social visit, as social interaction is a known factor in healthy aging.

Reduced social interaction

These walks have been put on hold since social distancing has been in place. Walking single file 6 feet apart is definitely not as stimulating, although I can still find beautiful flowers, new trees in bloom, or perhaps even some wandering deer. In case anyone is thinking they’re too old, one of our members just turned 90, and sets a fast pace!

Getting fresh air

I’ve tried for the last few weeks to get out and continue walking on my own, but I find it requires a strength of will, as it’s nowhere near as enjoyable. I’ve been accustomed to walking accompanied by that great conversation and a helping hand when needed. I know I should be out in the fresh air, pushing myself a little harder each time, but I’ve been finding it difficult to get started. Perhaps it’s the lack of fresh air and sunshine. A vicious cycle.

Beaver Dam Eye study

But that walking may be the reason my wet AMD is not worse than it is. The well-known Beaver Dam Eye study followed almost 4000 people for 15 years. One conclusion was: “Increased walking of more than 12 blocks daily decreased the incidence of exudative AMD by 30% over 15 years.”1 We know that exercise is one of the modifiable risk factors those of us genetically predisposed to macular degeneration can control and 12 blocks is really not that far.

More research on exercise and AMD

There’s been an even more recent finding from the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. They looked at the relationship between diet, smoking, and physical activity as it related to the prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in this study: Healthy Lifestyles Related to Subsequent Prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. One of the important conclusions is, “Women in the highest quintile compared with those in the lowest quintile for physical activity (in metabolic energy task hours per week) had 54% lower odds for early AMD.”2

Increasing physical activity

Walking is not the only way to increase our physical activity. Dancing, gardening, just moving, all count. “The association of physical activity to early AMD appeared to reflect the weekly time spent in physical activity rather than any specific type or intensity of physical activity.”2

What do you do for physical activity?

Enough about science, now to go out for a walk. Even that shorter 12 block walk will help. We need to do what we can, while we can.

What form does your physical activity take? Have you, like me, allowed yourself to slack off a bit? If not, do you have any suggestions to help motivate the rest of us?

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