Excess screen time and winter weather can make eyes dry and itchy. A common recommendation is to use moisturizing drops but new research from the University of Waterloo in Canada shows exercise can be an effective way to help the body provide its own relief.
During a blink, eyes are covered in tear film which is a protective coating for maintaining healthy eye function. The film is made up of an oil, water and mucin layer. They work together to moisten the surface of the eye and protect it from infection-causing irritants like dust and dirt.
The surface of the eye can develop dry spots when part of that tear film becomes unstable. That can lead to symptoms like itchiness, stinging or burning sensations.
"With so much of our activity tied to screen usage, dry eye symptoms are becoming increasingly common," said Heinz Otchere, a Ph.D. candidate in vision science at Waterloo. "Instead of having to use eye drops or other alternative treatments, our study aimed to determine if remaining physically active can be an effective preventative measure against dryness."
The study was made up of 52 subjects divided between “athlete” and “non-athlete” groups. The ones in the athlete group participated in at least five aerobic exercise sessions per week and the non-athletes were limited to no more than one session per week.
Researchers examined the eyes of all participants before and five minutes after each exercise session. They were looking for tear secretion and tear break-up time.
Scientists found the largest increase in tear secretion in the athlete group but also found what they considered a meaningful boost in tear quality and tear film stability in all participants after an exercise session.
"It can be challenging for people to regularly exercise when the demand is there to work increasingly longer hours in front of screens," Otchere said. "However, our findings show physical activity can be really important for not just our overall well-being, but for our ocular health too."