Healthy heart is linked with low risk of eye disease in new study

Looking after your heart with a healthy lifestyle also staves off eye disease and sight loss, study claims

  • US researchers found reduced risk of eye disease for people with healthy hearts 
  • Those of us who stick to heart health advice can prevent cataracts and glaucoma
  • About 2.2 billion people globally have eye disease leading to visual impairment

Age-old advice on how to look after your heart also applies to staving off eye disease and sight loss, a new study claims. 

US researchers have linked good cardiovascular health from a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking with lower odds for ocular diseases.

This includes diabetic retinopathy, a condition caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the retina that can lead to blindness and cataracts, when the lens develops cloudy patches. 

An eye with diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated



When the lens, a small transparent disc inside your eye, develops cloudy patches. 

Diabetic retinopathy 

A complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina).

 – Age-related macular degeneration

Eye disease that can blur the sharp, central vision you need for activities like reading and driving.  

It affects a part of your eye called the macula.


A common eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged. 

‘Earlier studies have observed associations between eye diseases and individual lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity or hypertension,’ said study author Duke Appiah at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in the US.

‘It is known that these metrics of ideal cardiovascular health do not work alone and may interact additively to result in diseases. 

‘However, prior to our research, no other studies have comprehensively evaluated the association of all of the metrics of ideal cardiovascular health with ocular diseases.’

Globally, about 2.2 billion people suffer from ocular diseases leading to vision impairment or blindness, but around half of these cases could have been prevented. 

The leading causes of vision impairment or blindness are diabetic retinopathy, cataract, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. 

Most ocular diseases show few symptoms at early stages and many people may not seek medical care despite readily available treatments.   

The aim of this study was to evaluate the relation between the American Heart Association’s prescription prescription for health metric, known as Life’s Simple Seven (LS7), and the occurrence of ocular diseases 

LS7 is based on the status of seven cardiovascular disease risk factors – not smoking, regular physical activity, healthy diet, maintaining normal weight and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. 

Following healthy lifestyle and behaviour habits can all contribute to good cardiovascular health as assessed by LS7. 

Illustration shows the difference between a normal Retina and a retina with diabetic retinopathy

Illustration shows the difference between a normal Retina and a retina with diabetic retinopathy

Investigators evaluated data from 6,118 adults aged 40 or more years old who took part in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 

The average age of participants was 57 years old, 53 percent of whom were women. 

Scores were summed for a maximum of 14, which indicated the most ideal level of cardiovascular health.

A one-unit increase in LS7 scores was associated with reduced odds for age-related macular degeneration by 95 per cent, diabetic retinopathy (68 per cent), cataracts (94 per cent) and glaucoma (94 per cent). 

Individuals with optimal cardiovascular health had 97 percent lower odds for diabetic retinopathy compared to individuals with inadequate cardiovascular health. 

Enjoying a healthy lifestyle by running and eating a healthy diet can all contribute to good cardiovascular health

Enjoying a healthy lifestyle by running and eating a healthy diet can all contribute to good cardiovascular health

‘Overall, we believe that primary prevention and early detection approaches of ocular diseases are important, considering that over half of all deaths from ocular diseases and cardiovascular diseases are known to be preventable,’ said co-investigator Noah De La Cruz at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. 

Since there is a overlap of the risk factors for ocular diseases and cardiovascular disease, the investigators recommended that screening for ocular diseases be incorporated into existing screenings for cardiovascular diseases.

‘We hope that our study findings will encourage adherence to healthy lifestyles in order to prevent these age-related diseases while also leading to increased collaborations between cardiologists, optometrists, and ophthalmologists in order to better prevent cardiovascular and ocular diseases,’ said Dr Appiah.      

The study has been published in The American Journal of Medicine.   


Life’s Simple 7 is defined by the American Heart Association as the 7 risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health. 

1. Manage Blood Pressure 

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.  

2. Control Cholesterol 

High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. 

When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.  

3. Reduce Blood Sugar 

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. 

Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.  

4. Get Active 

Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. 

Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. 

The Mayo Clinic advises at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. 

5. Eat Better 

A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease.

When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy. 

A healthy diet is full of fruit, vegetables, pulses and protein, with a limited alcohol intake.  

6. Lose Weight

When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. 

You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too.  

7. Stop Smoking 

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

Quitting smoking is therefore the one of the first steps to improving health.