Health & Fitness

It’s basic Logic 101.

    A. The only way to strengthen muscles is to exercise them.
    B. Muscles focus our eyes.
    C. Wearing glasses or contacts (let’s just call them both lenses) weakens the eye muscles through disuse, making us dependent on increasingly stronger lenses.

    D. Exercising our eye muscles will improve our vision to reduce, often even eliminate, our dependency on lenses.

    And as everyone knows,
    E. As soon as strong eye muscles replace our lenses, we will join the beautiful people with perfect vision, snow-white teeth, rippled abs, and designer clothes. Our sex lives will boom, we’ll get promoted, our IQ will increase … heck, maybe we can once again even read a newspaper our arms can reach.

Sorry, but E is no more true, logical or valid than C or D. As with losing weight or building strong arms and legs, the only way to optical utopia is the old-fashioned way. You eat right and lift weights to lose weight and build muscle, and you wear lenses to correct vision deficiencies. If your eyeballs aren’t shaped normally, only lenses (or surgery) can provide normal vision.

But the ads! The TV infomercials say if we buy their books, tapes, videos, computer software, and optical hardware gadgets and do eyeball curls and crunches, we’ll put opticians and laser surgeons out of business. Sadly for you and me, but fortunately for the opticians and surgeons, their careers are not threatened by this heavy but bogus advertising campaign. Get a grip, folks; it’s TEEVEE, and it’s ADVERTISING, fergoodnesssakes. Diet pills are not a healthy or long-term way to lose weight, magnets on your fuel lines don’t save gasoline, and eye pushups won’t obviate your lenses.

Are you eager to ditch your specs and get that promotion you’re sure is denied because of your eyeglasses? Maybe some cold, hard, facts will bring you crashing back to earth so you’ll accept the harsh reality of having to go through life looking like Sophia Loren.

First, no clinical trial has ever shown that C is true. Second, the mechanics of the eye do not support C or the claim that extra eye exercise will improve our vision. Third, these mechanics are sufficiently straightforward that even you and I can understand and evaluate them and their implications on optical gymnastics. You’ll quickly see that even if Arnold’s eyes bulged like his biceps he’d still need glasses if his eyeballs weren’t shaped properly.

Almost a century ago, a physician named Bates claimed the muscles around the eyeball shaped it to focus our eyes to adapt to different viewing distances, and promoted specific eye exercises to strengthen those muscles. He taught that placing our palms over our eyes and “Visualizing World Peas” would strengthen eye muscles and improve our vision. (Sorry, but it just warms the eyes and gives natural oils a chance to regenerate so they feel better.) He even claimed most eye diseases could be cured by eye exercises. (No; the primary effect of eye exercises on eye disease is delayed treatment and its risk of permanent vision impairment.) Despite the fact that his books and theories are now over 80 years old, are commonly known to be based on false assumptions and rampant hype, and even promote harmful practices such as deliberate prolonged exposure of our eyeballs to direct sunlight, gullible consumers still buy his books and modern derivatives of them despite a 1929 Federal Trade Commission complaint against him for false advertising and despite extensive scientific disproof since then.

In fact, most of the eye’s focus, and thus its visual “accuracy” or acuity, is determined by the basic fixed shape of the outer eyeball, especially the cornea. If that shape and its resulting focus are too abnormal for the lens inside the eye to correct through fine tuning, we need lenses. And even in eyes with average (20/20) vision, 45-year-old eye lens harden to the point that even well-toned lens muscles can no longer reshape the lens to focus well up close. Even obsessive eye exercises can delay this hardening process (presbyopia) -- and the ensuing necessity for corrective lenses -- only for a year or two at most, and would have virtually no effect on astigmatism or nearsightedness.

Exercise probably does help our vision, but our eyes get plenty of it in ordinary living. Just changing our gaze from the TV to the remote, the speedometer to the traffic ahead, and the computer screen to the sunbathing neighbor or to the wall clock 10 feet away are excellent and frequent eye exercises.

Strengthening the muscles that aim the eye may help correct eye tracking, or alignment, problems, but will still not improve the vision, or optics, of faulty eyeballs. Those two problems are largely independent, as they are with a camera. Just as we must point a camera in the right direction and focus its lens to get the picture we want, our eyes must point where we want and focus properly to see well. The latter won’t happen if the eyeball is not shaped properly naturally or corrected with lenses or surgery.

Don’t overlook the fact that many people have no idea they’re blind as a bat to begin with. They’re so accustomed to lifelong poor vision they don’t even know they’re handicapped until a friend reads a highway sign or billboard they can’t even see. Then they get glasses, learn what normal vision is all about, refuse to accept the old familiar blur when they remove their glasses, and swear the glasses hurt their vision.

No, what made them think their vision had been damaged by lenses was a heightened awareness of what good vision is all about and their refusal to run around in the old familiar fog. Bates, maybe initially through ignorance of how the eye works, and today’s infomercials, through greed, appeal to the false premise that glasses hurt our vision by weakening eye muscles. Wasting time on self-prescribed optical workouts when what you really need is corrective lenses for your vision or medical care for diseases like glaucoma or macular degeneration risks everything from automobile accidents due to lousy vision to unnecessary blindness due to medical neglect. Don’t fall for the hype. Buy all the stupid ab machines you want (and they’re all stupid), but don’t do this to your eyes. And don’t try to judge your own vision; ask friends, then ask your eye doctor, this simple question: “Is my vision at least average?”

Says who? Says Harvard University, says Quackwatch, says the FTC, say several state medical boards. No one, not even the American Vision Institute (the See Clearly Method), which claims to be “dedicated to research”, has conducted any clinical research supporting eye exercises for improving visual acuity. The claims for improving IQ and eye diseases are ever farther out in left field.

What our eyes do need is that we get medical eye exams from an ophthalmologist every couple of years (annually if we’re of Social Security age), avoid overly strong prescriptions and delay reading glasses until mandatory so our eyes get natural focusing exercise in everyday use, avoid tobacco smoke, eat right (vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and omega 3 fatty acids are important), wear quality sunglasses even in weak sunshine, check out that sunbathing neighbor often when we’re on the computer, and, if we can’t see sharply according to medical eye exams, buy glasses, contacts, or surgery.

For more exposure and criticism of eye exercise hype, follow these links and check their references.

On the other hand, one example of simple, free, exercises to help reduce eye strain during prolonged visual concentration is at