Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and affects more than 250,000 Canadians, according to Health Canada. Treatment can slow its progression; but can it be prevented?

A team from the University of California suggests that glaucoma can be prevented and recently released a report showing that moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise may be the key.

Using data collected in the U.S., the team found that the most physically active people had a 73 percent lower risk of developing glaucoma than the least active.

The data had been collected since 2003 from wearable ActiGraph devices, and this enabled the team to discover a six percent reduction in the risk of developing glaucoma from every 10-unit increase in walking speed and steps per minute. They also found a 25 percent reduction in the risk of glaucoma for every 10-minute increase in the weekly amount of moderate to vigorous activity.

Team member Dr. Victoria Tseng said: “People who exercise with higher speed and more steps of walking or running may even further decrease their glaucoma risk compared to people who exercise at lower speeds with less steps."

Maple Ridge, B.C.-based optometrist Murray Hurlbert says the study “makes sense, as more blood flows through the retina—which the optic nerve is part—than any other part of the body,” and loss of tissue that leads to glaucoma is “accelerated by poor circulation.”

Hurlbert concludes: “If one is able to improve blood flow to the optic nerve head, it makes sense that this would help to nourish the tissue and maintain its health as well.”