Does Exercise Improve Your Vision?

Exercise has all sorts of benefits. That’s not really breaking news. Often, though, people are surprised to find out just how far-reaching those perks could be. Specifically, a lot of research over the past several years has been focused on the neurological effects of exercise – what those workouts do to your brain.

And, all sorts of exciting revelations have emerged. Regular workouts could improve your mood, enhance your thinking ability and even boost your memory. Some fascinating animal tests, though, have also shown that exercise lights up the regions of the brain associated with visual processing. In mice and flies, at least. But, does this same thing happen in the human brain?

Let’s ask science!

Researchers, Cyclists and Funny Hats

To answer this question, a group of researchers from UC Santa Barbara asked 18 volunteers to complete cycling workouts while wearing electrode-laden skullcaps. These sensors, in turn, sent a wealth of neurological information to a nearby computer.

The participants then performed a low- or high-intensity workout on their stationary bike. During the workout, the riders were presented with a simple visual task: focus on a set of flickering black and white bars that regularly changed orientation.

Interestingly, both workouts increased the visual sensitivity of the cyclists. The low-intensity workouts, however, were much more effective.

What It Means

It’s important to realize that this test did not examine “vision” in the way that people normally define it. If the cyclists had poor vision because of some problem with their eyes, these workouts likely did not do much for them.

Rather, the benefits were associated with the way that the volunteers’ brains processed the visual information. Essentially, your brain gets better at collecting and reacting to what you see around you while you’re exercising. In fact, one of the study’s authors suggests that exercise could provide benefits similar to what people look for when they take part in brain training games – which haven’t held up well against scientific scrutiny.

As far as long-lasting impacts, more research is needed. The data used by these researchers was taken while the activity was still going on. Whether or not these benefits stick around after that workout has ended, though, remains to be seen.