secrets to seeing

The Secret(s) to Seeing Forever

For all of my life, I’ve been known as the person with “Superman” vision. When I was growing up in Louisiana, my best friend would test me to see how far I could see and always be amazed when I read a sign that was seemingly unreadable to him (of course, sometimes I just made words up to make it seem like I could see). As I got older, though, I constantly heard the same thing over and over again…

“You better enjoy it while you can” they’d say…

“Just wait until you’re my age” I’d hear…

“It’s inevitable that you’ll need glasses at some point,” society told me.

So, being the stubborn (and sometimes unreasonable) human that I am, I decided to prove them all wrong. I decided, instead, to BELIEVE that my eyesight would stay strong until the day that I died. I decided that I would never wear glasses and that I would always be the one that my friends went to read the fine print on the back of the box.

Now, as you’ve hopefully learned in your readings of these essays, your physical and mental health doesn’t improve because you WISH it to. So, I knew that if I wanted to keep my Superman vision, I would have to do something about it. That’s what’s led me to years of study and research on practical tips and tools I could incorporate to keep my sight on point.

Luckily, this story has not played itself out. At the age of 37 I currently have 20/14 vision, and, since I’m still alive (at least as I type this), there’s still a chance that my eyesight will deteriorate. So until the outcome of this lifelong challenge is determined, all I can do, and all any of us can do, is figure out the best strategies for beating the disease of poor eyesight.

But in order to do that, we need to know what causes poor eyesight to begin with. And, as always, I believe the best way know what habits we need to change is to look at our ancient history to see how we were meant to live in the first place…

From Living Outdoors to Fearing Outdoors

For most of human history, we spent our time outside. We spent most of our days hunting and gathering food, and many of our nights seeking shelter. And, if we got lucky, we could find a nice cozy cave to save us from the elements.

It wasn’t until about 12,000 years ago that humans even started building their own permanent shelters. And it took another 11,900 years until we made the shift from living most of our lives outside, to becoming hermits and staying inside.

Making that shift was an easy choice. After all, as pleasure-seeking machines, it made much more sense to be indoors in a comfortable, climate-controlled environment than it did to bear the outdoor elements. But this shift to indoor living has taken its toll.

Now we’ve become to comfortable that we find reasons to fear the outdoors. The cold weather will get you sick. The hot weather will cause you to pass out. The dander and pollen will irritate your allergies. And the sun will give you cancer. Sounds like there’s no good reason to be outside, right?!

Well, since this essay isn’t directly about the comforts of living (you can find essays of being too comfortable HERE and HERE), I won’t dive too deep into that topic. But, big companies and the government are striving to make it easier and easier for us to stay inside to avoid the harms of the outer world, which, in turn, is causing us to have higher and higher levels of chronic disease and ill-health.

(BTW, Facebook’s, which has officially been renamed to Meta, solution to this problem is to create an inter-connected virtual world they call the Metaverse. This way, you don’t have to deal with reality AT ALL! Think the world isn’t in trouble? Think again.)

While there are many detrimental effects to this fear-of-the-outdoors lifestyle, the most important impact is our lack of movement…

What Lack of Movement has to do with Poor Eyesight

One of the main reasons why there has been such a rise in chronic disease of the decades is because we’ve shifted to a sedentary society. We’ve taken bodies that are built for movement and sat them in comfortable chairs that beg us not to move (you can read more about this in the essay about Movement)

But when we talk about lack of movement, it’s not only lack of bodily movement that causes age-related disease. It’s also lack of eye movement that makes it so. Let me explain.

In her audacious book, Movement Matters, Katy Bowman lays out a compelling argument for why “near-work” is causing a drastic increase in myopia. As she says in the book, it’s all a matter of accommodation.

The word accommodation literally describes the eye’s ability to adjust so that it can see things up close and far away. To help understand how this process works, think of a rubber air-filled ball with springs attached to it in a circular manner, and those springs are attached to a bigger circle outside of the ball (sort of like a trampoline).

When the springs are in a normal, relaxed position, the ball will be pulled tight and possibly flattened out. However, if we contract the springs, causing them to press in on the ball, the ball will become thicker and more oblong.

In the same way, when you’re looking at things far away, the ciliary muscles (eye muscles that control the eye lens) are relaxed. This relaxed position pulls on the lens and causes it to flatten out. Conversely, when you view things up close, the ciliary muscles contract, pushing in on the lens causing it to become thicker and more oblong.

As you can imagine, due to the rapid evolution of technology, our society has been spending more and more time viewing things up close. Whether you’re looking at your phone, or at a computer, or at a TV, this up-close viewing causes the ciliary muscles of the eye to be chronically contracted, causing the lens to become chronically thicker, which, over time, causes the ciliary muscles to become dysfunctional causing age-related eye diseases such as myopia.

In this way, it is the lack of movement of the ciliary muscles and eye lens that increases your chances of developing age-related myopia and other related diseases. Of course, genetics play a factor in this process as well. However, we can impact the development of our eyes as we age much more than we’re led to believe.

Luckily, improving the movement of your ciliary muscles is simple. All you have to do is work its full range of motion…

Always Focus on Range of Motion…

When’s the last time you went outside and gazed out into the distance for longer than about 30 seconds? For many of us, that time has long ago, possibly even since we were children. Well, it turns out the child in you knew the natural way to keep your eyesight in check. Because the simple, yet dramatically effective, way to keeping or, possibly, improving your eyesight is through range of motion.

At Thriveology, we are constantly Coaching the importance of range of motion. No matter if you’re doing a pushup or a squat, the most important aspect of the exercise to work on is a full, healthy range of motion.

In the same way, when it comes to building strong, resilient eyes, the most important thing you work on is improving your range of motion. However, also in the same way, due to societal norms and lifestyles, it can be challenging to make this a regular part of your life. Just like society pushes you to sit in your seat and stay there, so too does society shove technology in your face and tell you that it’s the most important thing you can have.

Of course, the first question that might come up when talking about the range of motion (ROM for short) of the ciliary muscles and eye lens is, what is a good ROM, to begin with? In other words, how FAR and how close should we train our eyes to see?

In her book, Movement Matters, Katy Bowman gives us a convincing rundown of what the ROM of your eye might be. As it turns out, we don’t know exactly how far the eye can see. However, thanks to some mathematical calculations, it’s thought that a set of good eyes can see for about 1.6 miles, or 5,280 feet.

Now, to get a feel for how we spend most of our time seeing things, and, therefore, developing near-sightedness, let’s take a look at an example from Movement Matters that breaks down the average viewing distance for a modern human as compared to the possibly viewing distance of the eye…

As Katy lays the example out in the book…

“Myopia is rapidly developing in populations that have recently started limiting their eyes’ use to less than a half of 1% of their eyes’ range of focus (ROM), by frequently focusing for ‘near-work’ – 0.04% of the eyes’ ROM – and the rest of the time looking to a distance allowed indoors (the wall behind your iPad is only 20 feet away!) – 0.4% of the eyes’ ROM.”

To break this down even further, the average person spends 90% of their time inside. Considering most of our indoor areas are still relatively close, that means that we are using less than 1% of the eyes’ ROM for 90% of our day. If you were looking for the “smoking gun” to myopia, we may have found it.

This brings us to the next logical question…what can we do to work the full ROM of the eye? In other words, how can we overcome the societal norms of today to look FAR and close and everywhere in between so that our eyes to healthier longer?

Finally, the Secret(s) to Seeing Forever

As you might imagine, improving the ROM of the eye is pretty simple. All you have to do is look far away, right? Okay, well it’s not THAT simple. However, just by making some little changes in your routine, you can start to build resilient eyes that last a lifetime.

#1) Look OUT not UP

One thing you may have heard to give your eyes a rest is to look up from your screen every once and a while. While this can be helpful to a degree, as we’ve seen, just looking up to an indoor wall may only challenge your ROM by a fraction of a percent.

What we want is to stretch your seeing abilities further and more often. That’s why you should look OUT every once and while. More specifically, at least every 25 minutes, go to a window or, even better, outside, and look OUT into the distance. This will allow the ciliary muscles to relax and the eye lens to flatten out. Do this throughout the day for about 3-5 minutes at a time.

#2) Speaking of out, get OUTSIDE!

We talked in-depth last week about the importance of light for the health of the body and, more specifically, the circadian rhythm. This healthy light exposure helps to improve many things, such as sleep, hormone levels, dopamine levels, and more. Well, as you can imagine, light is also imperative for eye health itself.

There are cells in the eye, called melanopsin ganglion cells, that help the eye with blue and yellow contrasts. When you get outside in the sunlight, the ultimate source of blue and yellow light, these cells interact with structures of the eye, such as the ciliary muscles, iris, and retina, to keep them functioning optimally. And, no, you can’t just view sunlight through a window because the window shuts out 90% of the sun’s rays.

It’s been shown that getting yourself outside for 2 hours a day can offset the near-work viewing we do throughout the day. If that seems like too much for you, just start with SOMETHING! Maybe it’s 5 minutes, maybe it’s 50 minutes. No matter what, get outside for some amount of time to give your eyes and your health and chance to function at their best!

#3) Practice Accommodation

We saw that accommodation is the eyes’ ability to adjust to things FAR away, and things close up. To help increase your eyes’ ROM, take some time throughout the day to practice this FAR and close adjustment.

All you have to do is find a place where you can view something up close and view something further away. Maybe you sit in front of a window and use a book as your up-close object and a tree outside as your far-away object. For about 2-3 minutes at a time, maneuver your eyes back forth, from the book to the tree, allowing them to adjust as well as possible. This will challenge the ciliary muscles to contract and relax, improving their ROM and keeping your eyes healthier, longer.

While it may seem silly to think that you can impact the health of your eyes, you have the power to make them healthy and happy. Overcome the social dogma that poor eyesight is an inevitable fact and empower yourself to take action to make it better.

After all, it’s only in our ACTIONS that we can make an impact on our health. Luckily, it’s all up to YOU whether you take action or not.

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