This chapter leads you to the next step in healing your vision problem – exercise. Exercise stimulates the repair mechanisms of the body. We are meant to move. Observe a small child if you have any doubts about this. They are virtually never still! In native settings, people move about until very late in life. Unfortunately our tendency to become immobile from aches, pains, and the loss of strength and stamina results primarily from our sedentary ways. In the previous chapter, I talked about how to keep your body parts nourished and lubricated. Now I will discuss how to keep them moving. If a car is not used for a month, the mechanical parts in the engine will begin to deteriorate. The same thing happens to your body. This chapter is about whole body exercise. The next chapter will talk about the specific exercises for the eyes.
In recent years, scientists have learned a great deal about exercise. As a result, virtually everybody believes that he/she should exercise. The problem is there are a lot of people, over 50 percent in fact, who do not exercise. If you are one of the people who exercised before you developed ARMD, then your challenge is to modify your program, if necessary, to cope with reduced vision. Perhaps you also need a little motivation and encouragement if you are feeling depressed and hopeless about the future. If you did not exercise regularly before developing ARMD, your challenge is to begin doing so at a time in life when you find many things more difficult. Although you may at first feel daunted by the idea of launching an exercise program now, exercise and movement can actually offer you more benefits than it offers a sighted person.
Photo Gallery of Eye Exercise
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There are many types of exercise, and we will discuss each type later in this chapter. The important thing to know is that any type – from aerobics to stretching – offers several key benefits to persons with low vision.
The first and most important benefit of exercise is its ability to combat depression. Movement increases the production of natural endorphins, the body’s mood elevators. In one study, depressed people were assigned to one of three groups: those who exercised aerobically on a regular basis, those who took anti-depressants, and those who did both. The investigators predicted that those who both exercise and took anti-depressants would feel most relief from their depression. Everyone was surprised to learn that those who used exercise alone to combat depression reported feeling better than either of the other two groups
after several weeks. It is quite normal to feel a low mood and depression after learning one has ARMD. However, exercise can provide a new focus for activity and actually change your biochemical state so significantly that depression can be overcome.
The second benefit of exercise is its ability to improve your confidence and sense of safety as you continue your normal activities with reduced vision. Fully sighted persons depend almost exclusively upon visual cues to guide them in moving about. One reason for this is that most modern people are out of touch with their bodies. Native people were and are able to move through completely black forests and jungles at night, relying on their senses of smell, hearing, and their kinesthetic sense. Kinesthetic means the sensation of bodily position, presence, or movement resulting chiefly from the stimulation of nerve endings in muscles, tendons, and joints. For example, you know that you are standing on the floor because the nerves in the soles of your feet are stimulated by contact with the floor. You know you have reached a wall when you bump into it. Many persons who lose some of their sight feel disoriented in space because they can no longer use visual cues and they have had little experience using their other senses. This disorientation causes them to lose their balance, feel clumsy, bump into things, and even get hurt. Exercise can restore a sense of confidence in your body. It can open up neural pathways and allow you to feel parts of your body that have had no sensation. The ability to feel your limbs and trunk will increase your sense of security in spatial orientation and allow you to move more gracefully and confidently. You will probably begin to feel a new relationship with your body once you realize how much you have lost contact with feeling it.
Grace Halloran is a woman who has pioneered a method of healing retinitis pigmentosa and other eye conditions, including ARMD. She suffered from the genetically transmitted condition from the time she was in her twenties. Determined not to lose all her sight, she defied all odds as well as the scientific community in designing a program to restore vision for those afflicted with this condition. In her autobiographical blog, Amazing Grace, she tells the story of a time when her vision was low and she needed to walk outside in the forested area around her mountain home. Even as she panicked because she could not see, she realized that her bare feet could sense obstacles such as boulders and holes in the path. “I was determined to increase my overall awareness by using my feet. After all, feet are the primal contact with the earth, always receiving information. The signals, once interpreted, could increase my ability to get around. Thus my feet became my early warning defense system….” By allowing
her feet to lead her, she was able to relax and complete the journey safely. She was using her kinesthetic sense.
A third benefit of exercise is its ability to open up a new way of taking in information. Researchers found that most people have one dominant mode, or way, of learning anything. The three modes are visual (through the eyes), auditory (through the ears), and kinesthetic (through a felt bodily sensation).Understanding the different styles of learning is very important. If three people are present in any situation, they will take in information differently depending on their dominant style. A visual person describing an outdoor wedding might provide a lot of detail about what the wedding party wore and decorations. A person who was auditory would focus more on the music, sounds of the birds, and the tone of voice the couple used in exchanging vows. A kinesthetically focused person would describe the event in terms of the temperature of the air, breezes, and the sensation of being in the crowd as a participant in the event. Each one was fully present and observant but focused on a different aspect of the situation. Scientists have proven that we can all learn to expand our ways of interacting with the world by paying attention to the sensory input available in each mode. What this means is that even when vision becomes weaker, we do not need to lose contact with experience. We may need to shift to other sorts of stimuli and pay more attention to sounds and feelings. Exercise helps us to feel our bodies in space more accurately and with more pleasure. It allows us to open up the kinesthetic sense as a way to learn about and participate in our environment. As your vision improves through the use of the other techniques in this blog, you will continue to enjoy the benefits of having developed your kinesthetic sense.
The fourth reason to exercise is the same for fully sighted and low vision persons. This is the cardiovascular benefit from aerobic exercise. Simply stated, aerobic exercise makes you breathe harder. Faster breathing speeds up your metabolism and allows you body to rid itself of wastes and toxins. Any form of sustained, fast-paced movement accelerates the heart beat while training it to perform under stress so that it does not beat too fast. In the beginning of an aerobic program, the heart rate is apt to be very fast with only moderate exertion. After a while, the heart rate goes up only slightly with exertion. Monitoring your heart rate while exercising strenuously will give you an idea of how much benefit you are deriving from your exercise program. If you do not have a regular exercise program, now is the time to start.
Begin slowly under your physician’s supervision by exercising ten to fifteen minutes several times per week. This should gradually be increased to thirty minutes of exercise every day. The ideal exercise program will increase your heart rate moderately without producing fatigue. A general guideline is to exercise at 60% of your maximum heart rate. This is measured during the most intense period of your exercise program. To calculate this number, subtract your age from 220. This number is your maximum heart rate. Sixty percent of this number will be your target heart rate. Aim to exercise in the range between your target rate and your maximum rate. If your heart beats faster than this, there is greater risk of injury to muscles and the heart itself. A good rule of thumb is that when you have difficulty carrying on a conversation, you have reached your target rate.
To calculate your target heart rate, exercise to the point where you feel you are putting out a good effort. Stop and take your pulse for 15 seconds. You can feel it easily by placing two fingers on the artery on the side of your neck. Multiply this number by four to obtain your heart rate. If this number is greater than your maximum heart rate, you need to decrease your effort until you reach a state just under your maximum heart rate. This is the most efficient level. It enables you to have to a good aerobic workout the risk of injury. After doing this for a time, you will learn how to recognize when you have achieved your maximum heart rate without checking your pulse. Remember: more is not better; you need to gradually increase your aerobic capacity. Your heart rate is your guide.