The Truth About Eye Exercises

Have you seen online ads promising that you’ll be able to throw out your glasses if you pay for a “medically proven” eye exercise program? Don’t fall for the sales pitch.

While there are legitimately helpful vision therapy programs that your optometrist or ophthalmologist may prescribe to help correct particular issues—especially for children—self-help eye exercises are not the same thing at all. And you need to be wary of the claims made by the marketers of these programs.

Unfortunately, at worst, eye exercises can actually harm your eye health or vision by causing strain or injury. Also dangerous, though, is people believing they do not need routine vision care because they’ve subscribed to a self-help program.

Today’s post explores a few questions that our patients often have about eye exercise programs they’ve seen advertised, as well as how these compare to vision therapy supervised by an eye care professional. We’ll also take a look at some simple things you can do to keep your eyes healthy over time—no eye exercises required.

What are self-help eye exercises?

Eye exercise programs—usually based around series of repetitive movements or even simple verbal affirmations like, “my vision is getting better” and “I don’t need these glasses”—have been around for a long time, promising solutions to common eye problems like myopia (nearsightedness) and astigmatism.

It’s true that many people do not enjoy wearing glasses, and self-help eye exercise regimens promise to “cure” the need for corrective lenses.

The Bates Method

Most self-help eye exercise programs that pop up on the market from time to time are based on what’s known as the Bates Method, named after eye doctor William Horatio Bates, who had some pretty unorthodox approaches to eye care—including something called “sunning” in which people were encouraged to expose their eyes to focused beams of sunlight!

At the time he was practicing, in the late 1800s-early 1900s (Bates died in 1931), ineffective alternative and pseudo-medicine practitioners were common, and most of his theories have been proven false as medical science has advanced over the years. Nevertheless, Bates still has some followers today, and the internet has helped fuel new interest in the method at various times. You’ll see terminology like “natural vision correction” or even “yoga for the eyes” used to describe what is essentially just the Bates Method rebranded for modern consumers.

Can eye exercises improve your vision?

In short, the answer to this question is no. Much research has been done on self-help eye exercises throughout the last century-plus, and there is very little evidence to support the claims of Bates and other adherents of so-called natural vision improvement/correction.

This is because many vision problems that require corrective lenses—glasses and contacts—stem from structural problems with the eyes, known as refractive errors. If you have any of the following, you have a refractive error based on the physical shape of structures in your eyes like your corneas and lenses, or of the eye itself:

  • Nearsightedness
  • Farsightedness
  • Astigmatism
  • Presbyopia (common in people over age 40 due to aging eyes’ natural changes)

It has been proven time and again that no amount of eye exercises will be able to reshape your eyeballs, corneas, etc. The best thing you can do to improve your vision is work with your eye doctor to find glasses or contact lenses that are comfortable and helpful for you.

How are eye exercises different from vision therapy?

Now, you’re probably wondering why eye care professionals sometimes suggest or even prescribe vision therapy, which seems an awful lot like eye exercises. This is because, for specific eye alignment and focusing issues—such as strabismus—“training” the eye muscles with the help of various tools and movements can sometimes prevent the need for eye surgery. Vision therapy can also teach some athletes focusing strategies to help them perform better in their chosen sport.

It’s important to note that vision therapy, while controversial, has some scientific backing that self-help eye exercises do not. It is also carried out under the supervision of trained eye care professionals, who know what is safe and effective for your eyes. Lastly, vision therapy does not claim to be able to change the shape or structure of your eyes, as that is impossible.

Are there simple eye exercises you CAN do?

Many of us are concerned with our eye health due to all the time we spend in front of screens these days, and this is one of the main reasons (other than vanity) that people may want to pursue unproven eye exercise regimens.

Luckily there are lots of little, eye doctor-approved things you can do relieve eye strain caused by digital devices. These are three things you can try right now:

  • Blink your eyes often as you work on the computer
  • Every 20 minutes, practice the “slow blink”—slowly close and open your eyes 10 times in a row
  • Take frequent breaks to shift your focus by looking out a window, looking across the room, etc.

Other tips to protect your eyes

While eye exercise programs are mostly useless, it does not mean that you’re doomed to lose your vision because you don’t “work out” your eyes. There are lifestyle changes that can help prevent eye diseases, such as cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. For instance, wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from harmful UV light, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke, and actively control other health issues that could affect your eye health.

And visiting your eye care provider each year for routine exams will go a long way to keeping your eyes in shape, of course.

Have more questions about your eye health?

At Campus Eye Center, we help our valued Lancaster, PA area patients live better by seeing better. No matter your current concerns about your eye health or vision, we can provide the answers you’re looking for. Contact us today to set an appointment with one of our knowledgeable optometrists or ophthalmologists at either of our two convenient office locations.