Boosting vision by spending time outdoors

Boosting vision by spending time outdoors

For decades, parents have told their children that going outdoors can help to boost their overall health by filling their lungs with fresh air and helping them to appreciate their natural surroundings.

Now, it appears that mum and dad knew what they were talking about, as research has revealed that vision is one of the things to benefit from spending a great deal of time outdoors.

In recent years, there have been many reports about how staying inside is harming people"s eyesight, due to the use of artificial light and increased usage of handheld technology and monitors producing flashing images.

Now, experts from the University of Cambridge have found that children who spend more time outdoors then their peers have a significantly greater chance of benefitting from greater vision.

The study, which was reported by the Daily Telegraph, suggests that every hour spent outdoors each week can reduce a youngster"s risk of being short-sighted by two per cent.

Several recent studies have linked short-sightedness – or myopia – to the use of handheld games consoles, Mp3 players and even reading, suggesting that low light levels and increased focus is hampering children"s vision.

The evidence in the study – which itself involved analyses of previous research into myopia and its link to natural light – supports this assertion.

In the analysis of eight studies, which covered 10,400 participants and was carried out by Dr Justin Sherwin and Dr Anthony Khawaja, was presented to the American Academy of Opthalmology, the telegraph reported.

One study found that Chinese children who went to live in Australia had better eyesight then their peers who remained in their country of birth, with evidence to suggest that this was because youngsters in Australia spend far more time outdoors.

Recent research carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Education and seen by China Daily showed that more than one in four primary school pupils and 84 per cent of students at college have some form of vision problem.

This is a significant increase in the proportion of seven to 22-year-olds with vision problems over the last decade and the figures suggest that this is only likely to increase in the coming years.

The demand for glasses and contact lenses to treat the vision problems has also risen substantially, with a ten percentage point rise in vision problems among girls since 2005 alone – which coincides with a huge spike in the number of younger people using handheld games consoles and smart phones.

According to Dr Sherwin, UV light could play a key role in the development of youngsters" eyesight, with the sun"s natural UV rays possible helping to prevent the development of myopia – and some other conditions.

Obviously, younger people who spend little or no time outdoors are unknowingly hampering their vision and contributing to the rise in cases of myopia.

"It could be caused by not enough UV radiation, but it could also be spending less time looking into the distance or not enough physical activity," the newspaper reports him as saying.

"To be honest we do not know what causes people to become short-sighted, but they tend to read a lot more and to have higher academic achievement and we tend to assume it is because they are reading all the time," added Professor Paul Foster, who helped to supervise the project.

He theorised that this may be something to do with relaxing the focusing mechanism in the eye and how it returns to normal distance vision.

Professor Foster noted that the wavelengths of light people are exposed to outside could also have an impact, the newspaper reported.

The study results suggest that the problem may only worsen as children spend an increasing amount of time indoors rather than enjoying the great outdoors. 

by Adrian Galbreth

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