Sunshine improves eyesight and reduce eye problems, new research shows. In addition to the many benefits of being outdoors, a study has now shown that nearsightedness, also known as myopia, was less common among children who spend more time outdoors each day.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), observed two groups of first-graders in China. One group was encouraged to spend an additional 40 minutes playing outdoors, while the other wasn’t. After three years, the students who were outside more often had a 23 percent less onset of myopia than the other.
As many as half the children in the United States are thought to suffer from myopia. The condition is even more widespread in China and most of East Asia. At present, there are no known treatments to completely prevent it.
What is myopia?
Myopia is a medical condition commonly referred to as nearsightedness. People with myopia cannot clearly perceive objects in the distance, though they can see objects that are close to them. Myopia occurs if the eyeball is elongated or if there is a curvature to the cornea, the clear cover of the eye. If the light coming into the eye is not focused properly, distant objects tend to look blurry.
It is estimated that 30 percent of Americans have myopia. The condition is made even worse by eye strain caused by reading, looking at computer screens or using cellphones. Myopia is usually first observed during a child’s early years of schooling. The eye continues to grow until the age of 20, so the condition can set in at any time before then. Myopia can also develop later in life from severe eye strain or from health conditions, such as diabetes.
One of the first indicators of nearsightedness is an inability to see a school chalkboard or television screen. The condition can be corrected by glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery. Another non-surgical option is corneal refractive therapy, which involves wearing special contact lenses that cause the cornea curvature to reshape and become flatter, thereby causing less blurriness from the light entering the eye.
Sunlight exposure prevents nearsightedness
The research on sunlight and vision was conducted by Dr. Mingguang He of the Sun Yat-sen University of Guangzhou. For three years, 1,900 first-graders from twelve different schools in the same area were observed. Six of the schools maintained the normal school schedule, while the other six allowed the children to play outside for 40 minutes more each day. Parents of those in the latter group were also encouraged to allow their children to play outside more frequently.
By the end of the three-year research period, 39.5 percent of children from schools that had no extra outdoor playtime developed myopia. On the other hand, the children who were outside more often registered a 30.4 percent incidence of nearsightedness, showing a 9.1 percent difference between the two groups.
While more research is needed to confirm these findings, this study adds to the already extensive list of benefits we could get from outdoor activities — Vitamin D for the skin, mood improvement, disease prevention and even cancer reduction.
The bottom line is: playing outside, being outside, enjoying nature and being exposed to the right amount of sunshine is not only good for the eyes, but for the body and the soul as well. Sunlight improves eyesight!