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Staying healthy protects against failing eyesight

People who lead an overall healthy life by exercising, eating right and not smoking have a significantly lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of failing eyesight in older people, a study said.

Exercise and diet each reduced the risk, but both combined, along with a lack of smoking, caused the risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to fall by more than 70pc, said study author Julie Mares, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

"We don't need to be passive victims of these ravages of old age," Mares said.

"Relatively small things could make a difference in whether or not we develop AMD."

Macular degeneration results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field due to damage to the retina and can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognise faces, although enough peripheral vision can remain to allow other daily life activities.

For the study, Mares and her colleagues reviewed information about diet, exercise and smoking from 1,313 women between the ages of 55 and 74, collected during the 1990s.

The women were revisited on average six years later, at which point they received an eye exam to check for AMD.

Among the women who ate the healthiest, 11pc had an early form of AMD, compared to 19pc of women who had the worst diets, after factoring in elements such as their intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fat and sugar.

About one in 10 of those who exercised most often developed AMD, versus one in five of those who barely got any exercise.

When researchers combined the influence of diet, exercise and no smoking, the risk of AMD decreased even further, even though smoking alone was not related to AMD.

Though Mares and her colleagues looked at specific nutrients, such as specific antioxidants, there was no significant difference compared to the lower risk as a result of an overall healthy diet.

Mares said even 10 hours per week of light exercise, or eight hours of moderate exercise a week lowered the AMD risk.