Can you train your eyes (and brain) for better vision?
Picture this: you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, with a fresh cup of coffee by your side. You’re relaxed. You pick up your phone, open an app and spend a few minutes completing some exercises. According to the app, within several weeks of “training”, you are promised better vision and possibly freedom from glasses or contacts.
Wondering if this is too good to be true? Read on to find out.
What causes vision problems?
Before we look at whether exercises can help correct vision problems, let’s look at the root causes.
Refractive errors are what generally cause people to wear glasses or contact lenses. Myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia (up-close reading vision loss), and astigmatism are all refractive errors. They occur because light cannot properly focus on the retina.
The reason for this is either an abnormally-shaped eye or a change in the eye’s natural lens. For example, with myopia, the eyeball is longer than normal, and in hyperopia, it is shorter than usual.
Presbyopia, a condition that affects nearly everyone as they enter their 40s, is caused by a gradual loss of elasticity in the eye’s lens.
Exercising your eye muscles cannot change your eye’s shape, nor the condition of its lens. It also cannot help with other conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
So if you cannot change your eye’s physical properties, why do certain exercises claim to help?
Maybe it’s all in your brain
The brain plays an important role in your ability to see. What’s more, the brain has a great capacity to learn and adapt to different circumstances.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and acquire new skills. While it is most prominent in childhood, it can also be seen in adults.
Many exercises that claim to help improve vision use something called a Gabor patch to stimulate the part of the brain responsible for vision. Therefore, instead of trying to fix your eyes, they attempt to fix how your brain sees with reduced function by relying on neuroplasticity for retraining.
Eye therapies that claim to help
Different eye therapies have existed for many decades. For example, the Bates method, developed by Dr. William Horatio Bates, uses techniques like palming (placing the palms on one’s closed eyes), visualization, and sunning (looking directly at the sun, with closed eyes). He thought that refractive errors were not due to the shape of the eyeball but by dysfunctional muscles on the outside of the eyeball. He said that nervous tension and eye strain were to blame and could be reversed by using his techniques.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, especially online, claiming that the eyewear and contact lens industries are simply looking to make money and that there are alternative ways to fix refractive errors. Apps, videos, and other exercises typically focus on training the brain to see past the eye’s flaws. There are even special glasses that claim to provide long-lasting results after wearing them for short periods of time. However, these results have not been scientifically proven.
It can be dangerous to take advice from the Internet so always remember to see your optometrist for any concerns regarding your eye health. There are certain serious conditions that aren’t always felt, such as glaucoma. This is why it’s important to be followed by a professional.
Limitations of study
There is one notable study that attempted to show how specific exercises could train eyes to see better. Researchers worked with the University of California Riverside (UCR) baseball team and created two groups: one that would receive eye training and one that would not. However, there were several flaws with their study: the researchers knew which group was which and so did the group of trainees and the control group (those who would not be trained). What’s more, the results were self-reported by players (i.e. “I see better than before”) and not properly backed with scientific proof.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, "no evidence was found that visual training has any effect on the progression of myopia. No evidence was found that visual training improves visual function for patients with hyperopia or astigmatism. No evidence was found that visual training improves vision lost through disease processes, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy."
A final word
Although eye exercises have not been proven to improve your vision, it doesn’t mean they can’t provide other benefits, such as helping with eye strain and fatigue.
If you do have less than 20/20 vision and are looking to get rid of your glasses or contacts, book your free, no-obligation consultation now.
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