When it comes to signs of aging, different people have different pet peeves. Some of us really don’t like those gray hairs…others sigh over a lost silhouette…still others hate needing reading glasses to see what’s on the menu.
Since exercise improves the strength, flexibility and function of our bodies, it makes sense that eye exercises could improve our ability to see close up. Yet this is a controversial topic. Though various studies have found no clear benefit from eye exercises, many holistic practitioners and their patients say that vision can indeed be improved.
The challenge with aging eyes: Many people first become farsighted—meaning that nearby objects look blurry even though more distant objects are clear—starting in their 40s. This is due to presbyopia, a condition in which the aging lens of the eye becomes too stiff to focus clearly up close.
Detractors of eye exercise say that it won’t restore lens elasticity. But supporters say that’s not the point. Marc Grossman, OD, LAc, a holistic developmental/behavioral optometrist in New Paltz, New York, and coauthor of Greater Vision, explained, “Eye exercises can improve the strength, flexibility and adaptability of muscles that control eye movement and encourage a mental focus that helps the brain and eyes work better together. This can slow the progression of farsightedness and possibly improve vision.”
So the answer to the question, “Can eye exercises help us say good riddance to reading glasses?” seems to be yes for some people—and it certainly can’t hurt to try.
Dr. Grossman recommended four exercises for improving close-up vision. “While you do the exercises, remember to keep breathing and keep blinking. And smile! Smiling reduces tension, which helps your muscles work optimally and your brain focus on what’s around you,” he said.
Try to do the exercises while not wearing any reading glasses—or if your close-up vision is not good enough for that, wear weaker reading glasses than you normally do. If you usually wear glasses or contacts for distance vision, it is OK to wear those while doing the exercises.
How long to practice: Do each exercise for three to four minutes, for a total practice time of about 15 minutes per session, at least three times weekly. If you get headaches while exercising your eyes, reduce the time spent on each exercise—and see your eye doctor if the problem persists.
LETTER READING—for better scanning accuracy and conscious eye control when reading or using a computer. Preparation: Type up a chart with four rows of random letters, just large enough that you can read them while holding the page at a typical reading distance (type size will vary depending on an individual’s vision). Leave space between each row. In row one, type all capitals, one space in between each letter…row two, all lowercase, one space in between each letter…row three, all lowercase, no spaces…row four, wordlike groups of random letters arranged as if in a sentence.
Exercise: Hold the chart with both hands. Looking at row one, read each letter aloud left to right, then right to left. Then read every second letter…then every third letter. If your mind wanders, start over. Over time: When you master row one, try the same techniques with row two…then row three…then row four. If you find that you have memorized parts of the chart, make a new one using different letters.
NEAR AND FAR—for improved focus and focusing speed when switching your gaze from close objects to distant objects (such as when checking gauges on a car as you drive). Preparation: Type a chart with six to eight rows of random capital letters, each letter about one-half inch tall (or as tall as necessary for you to read them from 10 feet away). Tack the chart to a wall and stand back 10 feet.
Exercise: Hold a pencil horizontally, with its embossed letters facing you, about six inches from your nose (or as close as possible without it looking blurry). Read any letter on the pencil, then read any letter on the chart. Keep doing this, switching back and forth as fast as you can without letting the letters blur. Over time: Do this with one eye covered, then the other.
PENCIL PUSHUPS—to promote eye teamwork. All you need is a pencil.
Exercise: Hold a pencil horizontally at eye level 12 inches from your face (or as far as necessary to see the pencil clearly). With both eyes, look at one particular letter on the pencil…keep looking while bringing the pencil closer to your face. If the letter blurs or doubles, it means that one eye is no longer accurately on target—so move the pencil back until the letter is clear once more…then try again to slowly bring the pencil closer while keeping the letter in focus.
THE “HOT DOG”—for improved flexibility of the muscles within the eye that allow the lens to change shape. No props are needed.
Exercise: With your hands at chest height about eight inches in front of you, point your index fingers and touch the tips together, so that your index fingers are horizontal. Gaze at any target in the distance and, without changing your focus, raise your fingers into your line of sight. Notice that a “mini hot dog” has appeared between the tips of your fingers. Still gazing at the distant object, pull your fingertips apart slightly—and observe that the hot dog is now floating in the air. Keep the hot dog there for two breaths…then look directly at your fingers for two breaths, noticing that the hot dog disappears. Look again at the distant object and find the hot dog once again. Continue switching your gaze back and forth every two breaths.
Click here to watch a video demonstration of this exercise and two other eye exercises for quick relief of eye fatigue and computer eyestrain.
As your close-up vision improves, you may find that you need less-powerful reading glasses—or none at all—for your day-to-day activities.