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When a University of Virginia researcher set out to justify his sedentary lifestyle, he discovered that rising from the couch offered some eye-opening benefits: Even moderate exercise may slow or prevent vision loss.

In a study using lab mice, Bradley ­Gelfand, PhD, an assistant professor at UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science, found that exercising reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes — known to cause macular degeneration and other vision problems — by as much as 45 percent. Because the findings do not rely on self-reporting by study participants, Gelfand says, “This [study] offers hard evidence from the lab for the very first time.”

Some 11 million Americans suffer from some form of macular degeneration, and the condition tends to emerge as we age and abandon our fitness regimens.

Gelfand suspects the salutary effects of exercise on the eyes may be due to increased blood flow, but he admits there’s more work to be done before he’s ready to recommend any solutions. “We’re talking about a fairly elderly population . . . many of whom may not be capable of conducting the type of exercise regimen that may be required to see some benefit,” he says.

The findings did, however, change his own thinking. “I was hoping to find some reason not to exercise,” the self-described couch potato jokes. “It turned out exercise really is good for you.”

This article originally appeared as “See It to Believe It” in the January/February 2021 issue of Experience Life.

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