Think about your weekly exercise schedule: Do you work out your abs? Check. Arms? Check. Legs? Check. Back? Check. Eyes? ...??
Yes, really—your eyes need to be exercised the same as the rest of your body.
"Just as an in-person eye exam should be part of everyone's annual health routine, good visual hygiene should be a part of everyone's day in order to improve visual comfort and visual performance," says Lindsay Berry, O.D., a neuro-optometrist in Dallas.
That's right: There's an entire section of optometry dedicated to the way your brain uses your eyes, and that's where eye exercises come in. They're simple drills that improve your eye's ability to move around and focus on targets, similar to the way you can do agility or flexibility drills to move farther and faster on your feet. Here, three eye exercises to try from Dr. Berry—and why you should make time for them in your wellness routine.
(Disclaimer: Just like consulting a doc before tackling some crazy new workout program, you should consult an eye doctor before going crazy with eye exercises. Try the doctor-finding tool at ThinkAboutYourEyes.com.)
The Benefits of Doing Eye Exercises
These eye exercises aren't necessarily going to build muscle like your dumbbell workouts do. Rather, they're more like a mobility workout for your eyeballs: They improve your brain-eye connection and allow you to move your eyes more easily and efficiently. (FYI here's what mobility is and some common myths you should stop believing.)
"If there are deficiencies in your visual system (which can be identified during an annual eye exam), then eye exercises may be prescribed as part of vision therapy in order to enhance the brain-eye connection and the visual system as a whole," says Dr. Berry. "However, even if you don't experience visual deficiencies, eye exercises can be helpful to reduce visual stress and visual fatigue."
You might be thinking, "My eyes are fine, I don't need to exercise them!" But if you work in front of a computer or scroll Instagram on the reg, you probably do need to. (See: Do You Have Digital Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome?)
"Most people spend a majority of their day on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and looking at a near target (within about 16 inches) for long periods of time can put a lot of added stress on your eyes," says Dr. Berry. "Just as you would stretch before and after exercising, it is helpful to stretch the eyes before and after a long day at work."
And, no, eye exercises will not necessarily improve your vision. (You can't weasel your way out of needing glasses by religiously practicing these each day.) One study published in Current Biology found that they may help reduce your natural blind spot (which everyone has), and another study found that having children practice eye exercises may help delay vision problems. However, there's currently no research demonstrating that exercises can improve near-sightedness, far-sightedness, or astigmatism, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
How to Do Eye Exercises
For one, you should try to follow the 20-20-20 rule if you're at a computer all day. Supplement with these simple exercises each day or a few times a week to improve the flexibility and efficiency of your visual system, says Dr. Berry.
1. Eye Stretches
Think of this as flexibility and mobility work for your eye muscles. It'll give you the ability to move your eyes freely in a full range of motion.
A. Place your fingers in "steeple position" and hold them about a foot away from your face.
B. Keeping your head still, move fingers as far to the left of your eye as possible and hold for 5 seconds.
C. Repeat, moving fingers to the right, then up, then down.
Repeat 3 times a day.
2. Focus Flexibility
This drill will help you perfect the ability to quickly and accurately laser in on something (near or far) without straining your eyes.
A. Sit comfortably with something to read about 6 inches from your nose and something to read about 10 feet away.
B. Focus on the far target and hold for 5 seconds. Then switch your gaze to focus on the near object and hold for 5 seconds.
C. Take note of how quickly you can make things clear and the comfort of your eyes at each distance.
Repeat 10 times a day.
3. Eye Push-Ups
Push-ups aren't only for your arms! Eye push-ups help teach your eyes to work as a team to scan things nearby (like your smartphone or computer) without getting fatigued.
A. Hold a pencil at arm's length. Looking at the pencil, slowly move it inward toward your nose, keeping it single as long as possible.
B. If the pencil "splits into two" before reaching your nose, stop moving the pencil and see if you can make it singular again. If the pencil becomes singular again, keep moving the pencil toward your nose. If not, slowly move the pencil away until you only see one pencil. Then slowly move the pencil toward your nose again.
Repeat for 3 minutes a day.