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2017: How is your resolve?

Ceri Smith-Jaynes offers tips for a healthy New Year

06 Jan 2017 by Ceri Smith-Jaynes

Many people use the arbitrary date of New Year’s Day to make a fresh start towards a healthy lifestyle but if something is worth doing, is it not worth doing right now? Wherever our planet is on its repetitive voyage around our star it’s time to carpe diem.

The difficult thing is finding the correct information on what on earth a healthy lifestyle is. The internet is a minefield of unfiltered advice and the media bombard us with the latest fads and health risks, often based on scant evidence. Don’t get me started on the made-up word ‘detox’. 

The NHS Choices website is a really good, reliable source of information on healthy lifestyle and has some helpful tools. I’ve seen the most unlikely of my friends become daily runners by using the Couch to 5K app. If you want sound nutritional advice from a registered professional, look for a dietitian. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code.

For eye health, the message is much the same as for the rest of the body: obesity and smoking equals bad; balanced diet and physical exercise equals good.

You probably know smoking is bad for you but did you know it can cause blindness?

Yes, blindness. Smoking is an eye health disaster. The risk of macular degeneration ,the biggest cause of poor vision in the UK, quadruples if you are a smoker. You are four times more likely to lose your sight as a smoker. If you smoke, get help. Contact your GP or local smoking cessation service today.

Lasting change versus short-lived fad

Being overweight increases the risk of eye diseases; age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic eye disease and can increase the risk of stroke (which can wipe out a section of vision). But be sensible. If you need to lose weight, do it slowly and by eating a healthy, balanced diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least five-a-day) and increasing your physical activity. Foods thought to be good for eye health include kale, spinach, carrots, peppers and oily fish.

There are numerous food supplements marketed at improving eye health and preventing the development of eye disease. Studies have shown that if you have early, dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), taking specific vitamin and mineral supplements can lower your risk of the disease progressing. However, there is no conclusive evidence that taking a supplement stops you getting the disease. There appears to be a role for omega-3 fatty acids in helping the symptoms of dry eyes but you can obtain these from a balanced diet.

I’ve come a really long way since my student days, when I thought a chip naan was an acceptable evening meal and a mile was a long way to walk. One of the best moves I’ve ever made was getting an allotment. From April to October I have a constant supply of real organic food, which tastes better than I can buy in the supermarket. It forces me to work outdoors (shovelling thirty barrows full of horse manure – my biceps know about it the next day) and to cook from scratch so I know exactly what is in my meals. 

Vitamin content in vegetables reduces after harvesting, so pick them often and keep them in the dark in an airtight container. If anyone has any other good ideas for making kale more interesting, I’d be glad to hear them, otherwise I’ll continue to smother it in gravy. After all, you need some fat to absorb certain nutrients such as lutein; that’s my excuse. Now, I just need to adopt the excellent healthy lifestyle rule, pioneered by a wise friend: ‘no crisps unless I’m socialising’.

References:

  1. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. A review of the evidence for dietary interventions in preventing or slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2014; 34: 390–396
  2. Chew EY, Clemons TE, Agron E et al. Long-term effects of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and zinc on age-related macular degeneration: AREDS report no. 35. Ophthalmology. 2013; 120: 1604–1611
  3. Bhargava R, Kumar P, Kumar M, Mehra N, Mishra A. A randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids in dry eye syndrome. International Journal of Ophthalmology. 2013; 6(6):811-816

Find out more about looking after your sight.

Ceri Smith-JaynesCeri Smith-Jaynes is OT’s Multimedia Clinical Editor and is an optometrist in independent practice in Lancashire