Do Eye Exercises Improve Your Vision?

Eye exercises, which involve exercising your eye muscles, may improve vision and delay the need for glasses or contacts in some people. It will, however, not correct underlying conditions that affect eyesight, including myopia (nearsightedness), farsightedness, and astigmatism (an imperfection in the eye structure that causes blurry vision).

Vision is affected by a number of physical and environmental factors—some must be treated with corrective lenses and others can benefit from eye exercises or vision therapy. Check with your optometrist or ophthalmologist first to determine the specific causes of your symptoms.

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Do Eye Exercises Work?

Eye exercises can be beneficial for a number of eye problems, including:

  • Reducing eye strain on the focusing muscles
  • Strengthening the focusing muscles that control eye alignment
  • Improving eye-tracking problems
  • Stimulating blinking that can reduce dry eye symptoms associated with computer viewing

Because the physical anatomy of your eye can determine how you see, exercising eye muscles will not stop the most common issues that create a need for glasses or contact lenses such as:

  • Nearsightedness: When your eyeball is too long, light rays have too far to go to achieve a point of focus on your retina
  • Farsightedness: When your eyeball is too short, light rays entering your eye achieve a point of focus somewhere beyond your retina
  • Astigmatism: When your cornea is irregularly shaped, light rays entering your eye split into different points of focus, resulting in blurry vision
  • Presbyopia: As a result of aging, your eye’s natural lens starts to lose elasticity and cannot move efficiently enough to focus on close-up objects
  • Glaucoma: A group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve
  • Macular degeneration: Connected to the deterioration of the central portion of the retina (macula), the inside back layer of the eye that records images and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. This part of the eye controls your ability to read, drive a car, identify faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail

Eye Exercises to Try

The 20-20-20 rule

One of the most widely known eye exercises is the 20-20-20 rule. If you sit at your computer or do close-up work all day, take a quick eye break every 20 minutes. During this time, look away from your computer or paperwork for 20 seconds and gaze at an object that is at least 20 feet away. Since the focusing muscle inside the eye and the muscles that control eye alignment have to work harder when focusing on near objects, this quick-and-easy exercise eases eye strain. This also tends to stimulate blinking, which can reduce dry eye symptoms associated with prolonged near work.

Other exercises have been referred to as yoga for eyes because, like yoga for the body, they rest overused muscles, reduce tension, and strengthen muscles.

A few yoga-like exercises for the eyes from Yoga International include:

  • Palming: Warm up your hands by rubbing them together. Rest your fingertips on your forehead, palms over the eyes, with the heels of the hands on your cheeks. Your hands should form a cup over your eyes. Don’t touch or put any pressure directly on your eyeballs. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, and relax. Enjoy this break from visual stimulation for a few seconds or up to five minutes. Then, gently remove your hands and slowly open your eyes
  • Eye-rolling: Sit upright and relax your eye and face muscles. Without moving your head, direct your gaze toward the ceiling. Then slowly circle your eyes in a clockwise direction. Gently focus on the object in your peripheral or outer areas of your vision. Keep your eye movements smooth. Repeat this process three times, then close your eyes and relax. When you are ready, do the same eye movements three times in the counterclockwise direction
  • Focus shifting: With a relaxed posture and steady breathing, hold one arm straight out in front of you. Form your hand into a loose fist with the thumb pointing up and focus your vision on your thumb. Then, slowly move your thumb toward your nose until it is out of focus. Pause to breathe, and then slowly move your arm back to its outstretched position while maintaining focus on the thumb. This exercise can be repeated up to 10 times
  • Distance gazing: This is a variation of the 20-20-20 rule. Gaze at a distant object inside or outside the window. Relax and focus on the object as clearly as possible. Don’t strain or squint. Take a deep breath, and then slowly shift your gaze on to another distant object. Drift your eyes slowly to look at objects around you at various distances

You can also try this very simple and relatively quick eye exercise:

  • Close your eyes
  • Slowly and gently move your eyes gaze to the ceiling, then slowly to the floor three times
  • Close your eyes
  • Slowly and gently move your eyes to the left, then slowly to the right for three times
  • Repeat this process three times

When to Contact Your Doctor

Even though eye strain in any form is temporary, let your eye care doctor know if it does not go away or if it gets worse.

Vision Therapy

The goal of vision therapy is to stimulate the communication between the brain and eyes to achieve clear and comfortable vision. Certain vision problems, such as amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (crossed eyes), as well as dynamic visual skills for sports, can be improved with doctor-supervised vision therapy.

Through vision therapy, optometrists try to help children and adults develop or improve visual skills, abilities, and efficiency, and change visual processing or interpretation of visual information. An optometrist-guided vision therapy program will usually have two parts: supervised in-office exercises and reinforcement exercises at home. It could take weeks or months to achieve results. Some optometrists add certain training glasses with special lenses or filters.

Convergency Insufficiency

A condition that is helped by vision therapy that affects up to one in every eight children is convergence insufficiency (CI)—where the eyes have trouble working together while focusing on a close object. A randomized clinical trial funded by the National Eye Institute that studied treatment for CI showed:  

  • The best treatment for CI is supervised vision therapy in a clinical office with home reinforcement (15 minutes of prescribed vision exercises done in the home five days per week)
  •  Children responded quickly to this treatment protocol
  •  About 75% of all children achieved either full correction of their vision or saw marked improvements
    within 12 weeks

Although doctor-supervised vision therapy is recognized as safe and effective for certain eye issues, vision therapy should not be expected to eliminate your need for vision correction with glasses or contacts.

Orthoptics

Orthoptics is performed by orthoptists, who are trained, and sometimes certified, to evaluate and treat patients with disorders of the visual system with an emphasis on binocular (two-eyed) vision and eye movements. Orthoptists can evaluate and work with all ages of patients, but many patients are children. Children with amblyopia or adults with double vision and eye alignment disorders can be assessed by a certified orthoptist, who may assist the physician in guiding both non-surgical and surgical interventions.

A Word From Verywell Health

If you are having trouble seeing, your should make an appointment with an eye care professional instead of starting eye exercises on your own. Eye exercises may alleviate fatigue in your eyes, but they can't correct your vision. An optometrist or ophthalmologist has the expertise to determine if your condition requires corrective lenses or could benefit from eye exercises.

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Article Sources
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  1. All About Vision. Do Eye Exercises Improve Vision? Updated September 2020.

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. The lowdown on eye exercises. Updated May 6, 2020.

  3. American Macular Degeneration Foundation. What is Macular Degeneration?

  4. Yoga International. 4 Yoga Exercises for Eye Strain.

  5. National Institutes for Health division of Occupational Health and Safety. Health And Wellness: Exercises and Stretches.

  6. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Vision Therapy. Updated August 2016.

  7. Optometrists network. Convergence Insufficiency. Published April 2020.

  8. American Association of Certified Orthoptists. What is Orthoptics/Orthoptist?