By Kent A. Haefs, OD, Aurora Health Care
For kids, playing outside is simply fun. It’s good for their physical health. Surprisingly, it also appears to be good for their vision.
Multiple studies have found that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop nearsightedness (myopia) than children who spend more time indoors.
One study found differences in two groups of students in nearby schools. Students who spent more recess time outdoors had lower levels of nearsightedness than students who spent more time indoors. If the children already had some myopia, it progressed more slowly when they spent more time outdoors.
Sunlight triggers the production of dopamine. That’s a natural neurotransmitter that can help keep eyes from becoming too long. When the eyeball becomes longer than it should be, it can’t focus correctly. It can become nearsighted. That means distant objects are blurry. Things that are close are in focus.
You may wonder if there’s a vision affect when kids are indoors looking at screens or books. A sizable study in the UK found no correlation between nearsightedness and time spent doing close-up work. However, lots of close-up work can cause strain and eye fatigue. Even though screen time may not cause myopia, it’s still better for your eyes to limit time looking at screens.
Myopia Is a Growing Concern
Nearsightedness is becoming more common in America. About 42 percent of people age 12 to 54 are nearsighted. That’s up from 25 percent in 1971. It may be a good idea for you to get outside with your kids!
Other Ways to Protect Your Family’s Vision
- Get regular eye exams — For children, the American Optometric Association recommends this plan:
- Know your family’s eye health history — Many eye diseases run in families and can affect children. Myopia tends to be hereditary. If you know of vision problems in your family, let your vision care provider know.
- Protect children’s eyes during play and work — Use appropriate eye protection for sports, at school and when doing activities at home.
- Kids should rest their eyes — Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from close-up work and look at something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will reduce eyestrain and leave everyone’s eyes feeling better at the end of the day.
- Wear sunglasses, even on cloudy days — Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement. Glasses with UV screening protect eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays. A wide-brim cap or hat also helps protect eyes.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and veggies — Carrots and dark leafy greens support eye health.
- Maintain a healthy weight — Being overweight increases the risk for diabetes, which can lead to vision loss.
- Stay physically active — Activities that get the heart rate up also boost blood flow, and that’s good for your children’s eyes. Remember protective eyewear.