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Nearsighted? Go Outside

Every so often — when I am not leaping up to care for children —  I wake up, lie in bed, and wonder what kind of animal would have trampled me had I been born before the introduction of modern ophthalmology. Because someone like me with such a case of myopia (nearsightedness to me and you) would have been hard-pressed to stay alive way back when.

To say I have poor vision would be an understatement. My vision is 850/20 in one eye and 750/20 in the other. To put that into perspective: I have to hold the phone thisclose to my face to see the numbers. I’ve worn glasses and then contacts to compensate since I was a child. In fact, I can still remember being completely shocked when, at eight, I first wore glasses. I was amazed that I could actually see every blade of grass when looking out at my lawn.

While I truly believe I would have been nearsighted no matter what, researchers at the 115th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology conference seem to think that a little more time outside would have prevented my sad condition.

According to the study, which was an analysis of other studies, the more time people spend outside, the better their chances are of escaping glasses. Those who are outside more have lower rates of myopia, according to the study. Researchers theorize that it might be the exposure to natural light or possibly the effects of looking at distant objects. Either way, according to researchers, being outdoors is good for a child’s vision. Here’s an excerpt from the study, released today:

“The data…was drawn from eight carefully selected studies on outdoor time and myopia in children and adolescents, representing 10,400 participants in total. Dr. Sherwin’s team concluded that for each additional hour spent outdoors per week, the chance of myopia dropped by approximately two percent. Nearsighted children spent on average 3 to 7 fewer hours per week outdoors than those who either had normal vision or were farsighted.”

This is interesting stuff, but what really surprised me was the fact that myopia is more prevalent today than it was even 30 or 40 years ago, and that in parts of Asia more than 80 percent of people are nearsighted. (How can that be???) Although researchers don’t know why, they do know that it’s not that being outdoors takes the place of other things like playing video games or watching TV. Bottom line, says Dr. Anthony Khawaja, one of the study authors, “increasing children’s outdoor time could be a simple and cost-effective measure with important benefits for their vision and general health.” Sounds like something that’s pretty easy to implement because, while it’s too late for me, I’d love to help my little one remain glasses free. Bring on the park!

One Response to “Nearsighted? Go Outside”

  1. Ali says:

    I had a similar experience around 10: for me, it was the leaves on the trees. 8)

    I’ve heard similar reports that spending time outside and in the sun is supposed to be good for our eyes. While not outside, I did recently convince my boss that I needed a window seat! I don’t know if it’s helping my vision (I’m probably past the point of no return at 28), but it definitely helps my mood and energy throughout the day.

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