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Weight Lifting Lowers My Eye Pressure

Submitted by dave on Mon, 11/06/2006 - 3:14pm

Exercise As little as 5 or 10 minutes of weight lifting gives me a post-exercise effect that results in reduced eye pressure after the workout.

The weight lifting doesn't have to be super intense, but it can't be too easy either. There have been a few studies that have looked at this effect in the past. Here are some (but not all) of the links:

Effects of Different Intensities of Exercise on Intraocular Pressure

The effect of continuous strenuous exercise on intraocular pressure

The effect of exercise on intraocular pressure (pdf)

In my experience, a short weight lifting program often brings my eye pressure down to around 14 or 15 (or less). Sometimes the effect is not very dramatic. For example, if my eye pressure is around 17, the workout might bring it down to 15. Other times, the post workout effect is fairly impressive. Here are some examples:

  • Weight lifting dropped my eye pressure from 19.3 to 14.3 in my right eye (my left IOP was lower initially but still dropped a few points and finished near the same value as the right eye).
  • Weight lifting dropped my eye pressure from 22.0 to 14.0 in my right eye (the same comment about my left eye's IOP applies)
  • Weight lifting dropped my eye pressure from about 17 to about 12 (in both eyes).
  • Weight lifting dropped my eye pressure from 19 and 20 to 14.3 and 13.0.

I don't have all this exercise-related data posted yet, but I'm working on it. I'll eventually have the full day of measurements for the days that include the workouts cited above posted here on my blog. (It takes a while to post a thousand IOP values!)

I also plan to refine my exercise program to see if certain exercise routines are more effective than others. To date, I have done whatever workout program I felt like doing on that day. (As an example, today I did abs and lower back to warm up, then I did barbell squats and that was it. Yesterday I did chest, shoulders and triceps.)

I still need to collect more data in order to get a better idea how long the post-exercise effect lasts for me and whether the type of exercise influences that time period. Many different things influence my eye pressure throughout the day, so it has been difficult to isolate the post-exercise period from these other effects. However, the second study cited above seems to parallel my own experiences fairly closely. Here is what that study found (emphasis mine):

Intraocular pressure decreased significantly at all marching intervals and returned to baseline level 3 hr after the completion of marching. The maximal average reduction during marching was 4.1 mmHg, 26.5% below the baseline level. The IOP decreased again 48 hr after the march and returned to baseline level 48 hr later. 

One reason I'm experimenting with very short workouts is that I want to see what happens if I work out several times a day. I hope to set up some experiments like that in the future. If the eye pressure lowering effect of weight lifting can last at several hours, I could do a 5-15 minute workout in the morning, another one at lunch, and another one after work or in the evening.

Three 10 minute workouts a day wouldn't be bad. I like working out and these short workouts are easy to do. I like the idea that there might be something that helps my fitness and also lowers my eye pressure.

I need to point out that there is another point of view presented in Intraocular Pressure Variation During Weight Lifting:

"The scientists found that weightlifting is associated with a temporary increase in intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye). Introcular pressure is raised further if the person holds his/her breath during reps." 

I have corresponded with the researchers who conducted that particular study (but I have not yet read the full text). These researchers are some of the sharpest scientists in this area of research and I'm not disagreeing with their conclusions. I have simply chosen to seek the post-exercise IOP reduction at the potential cost of a very short-lived temporary increase in intraocular pressure during a weight lifting repetition. I think those scientists disagree with my decision - and I certainly wouldn't encourage you to emulate me, either. However, I will offer some insights into what is behind my decision to utilize weight lifting in my program to reduce my IOP.

From my correspondence, it is my understanding that the temporary increase in IOP seen in this study is very short lived - maybe so short that it can only be detected during the actual repetition (which lasts some number of seconds). 

In my own work, testing IOP immediately (within a minute) after concluding an exercise set of anywhere from 8-25 reps always shows a decrease in my IOP. I have tested as quickly as possible after an exercise, and I have never observed an increase in IOP. I have tested this in the middle of a workout (between exercises), as well as after immediately the workout. This IOP reducing effect has held true even if I perform an excise where my head is slightly lower than my feet and/or I strain during the exercise - things that would normally raise my IOP. Of course, as the scientists pointed out to me, I am not measuring my IOP during the repetition.

On the one hand I can achieve a decrease of 5-8 mm Hg that persists 30 minutes to several hours. On the other hand, I may experience an increase of 2-4 mm Hg that persists such a short period of time that I can't detect it with my procedures. (Again, I'm not saying it doesn't happen because I believe it does. However, it lasts such a short period of time that within 30 seconds, not only is any IOP increase gone, but the decreased IOP is already measurable in my tests.) Between the choice of the very fleeting IOP increase and the larger sustained decrease, I am leaning toward the decrease. Plus, I not only get a sustained decrease in IOP, I also get improved fitness, strength and bone density.

A forceful blink can raise the IOP as much as 4 points. I think the cardiac pulse can even raise IOP by about 4 points for a fraction of a second. Do those fleeting increases in IOP cause harm? I would have to see more evidence of that before I would become overly concerned about the effect of small, fleeting IOP increases.

I personally feel the need to focus on controlling my IOP over longer periods of time. If I can't manage my IOP over the course of a day, I certainly don't need to be worrying about an effect that is so fleeting that I can't detect it within 30 seconds of finishing an exercise.

I've seen my IOP become very elevated and stay elevated for days in a row - those are the effects I feel I most need to avoid. I have a lot of work to do to reach that goal, and for the time being, weight lifting seems to be helping me.

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