20/20 in 2020: How Your Vision Can Be Trained and Why You Should Care

15 min read. Guest blog by Move2perform.

Eyesight degrades with age. That’s what we’ve been told all our lives. From our very first pair to our inevitable reading glasses, there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
 

Yet as we learn more about the brain, this irrevocability seems to make less and less sense. 
In 1954 Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, a record that was previously thought of as unattainable for humans. Since then, this record has been broken many times; running a four-minute mile is now considered a standard benchmark for aspiring professional runners. 
 

In nearly all aspects of human activity we’re finding that we can train ourselves beyond what was previously thought possible. We can be stronger, faster and smarter than previous generations and we have more longevity than ever before. So why, when it comes to our most important sense, do we so easily accept that we’re doomed to degenerating eyes?
 

Research from the eye care industry shows that corrective lenses are an effective and easy way to improve eyesight, compared to inconclusive results from programs developed to train vision, so it seems the simplest thing to do is assume lenses are the best option. By resigning ourselves to rely on external fixes for our eyes we accept that they’re destined to fail us as we age; significantly faster for some than others.
 

Except this isn’t always the case.
 
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There are many documented cases of people’s vision being restored, either somewhat or fully. Interventions exist for children to help visual development that do not require lenses or external equipment, and neurologists sometimes use vision training exercises in rehab for adult patients. Even more absurdly, a small study on patients with multiple personality disorder showed differences in many visual tests across personalities. Knowing this, it would be strange to think there’s nothing we can do to improve our vision.
 

 

What does ‘20/20’ even mean?


‘20/20’ is often thought of as perfect vision, but it’s actually far from the best vision a person can have.

20/20 is an American term and it simply means that you can accurately read from 20 feet away, what the average person can read from 20 feet away. Outside the US you’ll more commonly find 6/6, referring to 6 metres. How well you can see detail at a distance is known as your ‘visual acuity.’
If your visual acuity is below standard the second number increases. 20/40 vision for example, means you need to be 20 feet away to read what the average person could read from 40 feet away. Though, if it’s above standard the second number decreases - 20/10 vision would mean you could read from 20 feet away what somebody else needs to be 10 feet away to see.
 

In his book See to Play, OD Michael A. Peters states the best vision he has currently found in athletes is 20/8, but that he’s still searching for better.
 

But why 20 feet? At that distance, light rays are said to be the closest possible to parallel as we can get, and a normally functioning eye should be able to focus parallel light rays sharply while relaxed (a state called Emmetropia). Anything closer or further away our eyes would have to start adjusting & bending the rays to focus them sharply, which would be misleading when trying to measure your eye’s efficacy.
 

 

Is distance the only important thing to measure?


It turns out that good visual acuity is only one part of the bigger picture, we also have two other major visual functions: Peripheral Vision and Depth Perception.
Peripheral vision; being able to see things outside of our focus area or at the “edges” of our vision; keeps us aware of our surroundings without our heads having to dart around like a squirrel.
 

Depth perception; being able to accurately perceive in 3 dimensions; allows us to catch, pick things up, interact with objects, jump, use stairs etc. If our eyes cannot track objects smoothly, we would need to use our neck muscles much more to prevent the world looking like a bad home video recorded with shaky hands.
 

It is possible for somebody to have good visual acuity, but struggle with their eyesight due to one of these other factors. Similarly, an athlete may excel in their peripheral vision and motion tracking (skills which they use all the time), yet still be short sighted.
 

In order to truly have good vision, we should be well rounded in all three of these visual aspects.

 

Why does vision decline?


If vision is so important, how is it possible that eyesight deteriorates so consistently across so many people? Everything, including visual processing and the movements of your eye muscles, is controlled by your brain, and controlling everything your body needs to do is very energy expensive. Our brains will happily get rid of any functions we are not using. If we do not have the need for distance vision, our brains will stop providing it.
 

Nowadays we live in a world where we mostly focus on screens in front of our faces, words on a page, street signs and buildings all around meaning we rarely need to focus on anything far away. Our eyes and brain are adapting to our environment exactly as they are supposed to
This is then perpetuated by the addition of glasses/contact lenses.  Each time we’re prescribed a set of lenses that do the job our eyes were meant to do our brain no longer needs to waste energy on controlling your vision itself. Our eye muscles relax to allow the lenses to work, suddenly we become “blind” without them. It is no surprise that most of us see our vision deteriorate quickly once we start wearing glasses full-time.
 

Our brains essentially “forget” how to use our own eyes.

 

What ways can vision be train?


There are many programs and courses available to help improve vision, and I’ll go through more specific things you can do in another section of the blog, but broadly speaking, different areas of vision training are:
 

Prescription: Many programs suggest that slightly reducing your current prescription is a good way to force your eyes to work a little harder. In fact, some claim that prescriptions given by opticians are too strong and accelerate the eyes degeneration, as the eye is forced to relax to create a clear picture.
 

Muscular: Our eyes focus on images at different distances by contracting or relaxing the ciliary muscles attached to the lens. In order to improve near or far vision, we need to strengthen these muscles to allow them to focus quicker and more clearly on whatever we are looking at.  The extraocular muscles around the outside of the eye can also trained by practicing object tracking or gaze stabilisation (more on these later!).
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Awareness: Our vision is not an entirely physical process. In fact, most of the work is done by our brains interpreting the light information entering our eyes. This explains how phenomena such as optical illusions, our ability to see faces in inanimate objects and occasional blindness to things right in front of us can exist. Our brains will distort the visual information it receives in ways that have given it a survival advantage in the past. We can improve awareness using specific tasks to help us process information more efficiently, such as training our visual reaction times or peripheral awareness.
 

Environment: Modifying our environment, including more time in open spaces and not spending too long focused in one position, is a good way to maintain healthy eyes and minimise or prevent loss of visual acuity over time. If we put ourselves in an environment where our eyes need to see further, they will begin to adapt to these needs. 

Using a combination of these training areas gives the best results, taking small and manageable steps – not just ditching your glasses completely. Just as with any type of training, anything that is too stressful will not be received well by the brain.


 

What are the benefits of training my vision?


Some vision training benefits are quite obvious - being able to recognise and read objects from both closer and further away is almost enough merit on its own! You also save money on glasses and reduce tension in your eyes.
 

However, there are a lot more advantages! Here are some of the less obvious benefits:
 

Improved peripheral vision has been linked with fewer injuries in many sports
Being able to see more things at once prevents excessive or unnecessary head movements. As our head is quite heavy, at high speeds this can add significant amounts of force in unwanted directions. In American football players, vision training pre-season has also been associated with fewer concussions, presumably as athletes are better able to avoid each other.
 

Improved vision can help with strength and speed
If our eyes can process images clearer, our brain can interpret the information quicker and therefore react quicker. Similarly, the more confident our brain feels about our immediate surroundings, the greater the force it will allow us to use.

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Improved eye convergence and depth perception will help your coordination
Improving throwing, catching, motor control and general interacting with the world opens the door to a wider range of sporting activities. Stronger convergence can help us keep focus on targets, plus has an impact on keeping ourselves focused mentally.
 

Reduces headaches neck strain
Weaker eye muscles can result in other head and neck muscles to compensate, which can be the cause of headaches in some.
 

Improvements in our detailed peripheral vision gives us a broader focus
Being able to relax your focus and still take in details can reduce stress levels. This is also the technique required for speed reading, as it allows your eyes to take in more information at once.

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Reduced anxiety levels
Training our vision improves visual processing speeds, meaning our brain feels it has more time to assess and decide if we are in danger from our environment.
 

It is worth noting that continued decline in vision can affect us in the opposite ways to those listed above, e.g. reduces coordination, increased chance of neck strain, a rise in anxiety/stress levels as our brains cannot properly identify threats, etc.
 

 

Will the Effects Last?


Our brain operates with a strict ‘use it or lose it’ policy. Any functional changes in your eyes & brain will only stick if you consistently and frequently make use of the new abilities, otherwise expect to see your vision regress once again.
 

Changing our environment, ensuring we take regular breaks from screens and being aware of when our eyes are feeling strained/tired is crucial to make long lasting change.

How do I get started?


Below are examples of some quick changes you can make immediately with minimal hassle. With all these exercises, do not continue under any circumstances if you experience pain, blurry vision, double vision or sudden fatigue. If you have any concerns please consult an optician, behavioural optometrist or your GP.
 

Active focus is one of the easiest ways to improve visual acuity.

·        Find some text (such as a road sign or number plate) that’s on the edge of blur i.e. you’re as far away as you can be while still reading it clearly
·        Take one small step backward so the text now becomes blurry
·        The goal is to try and make your eyes focus clearly on the text again without squinting

This is quite difficult to achieve at first, and initial successes probably won’t last longer than a second. Once you get used to the technique however, you can start building up some endurance by holding the focus for longer.
 


Screen breaks are a great way to reduce eyestrain. When we focus on the same distance for a long time, the muscles in our eyes are forced to contract into one position without changing for long periods. Imagine the feeling of carrying heavy shopping bags over a long distance: the longer we carry, the more tension we feel in our muscles. Put the bags down even for just a few seconds, and our arms and shoulders feel much better and we can continue our journey. 
 

The exact same is true for our eyes. Where possible, take a short break of 30 seconds at least every 30 minutes, to allow your eyes to focus on something else further away.
 

It’s likely that getting into a habit with this will also improve your energy levels throughout the day, as when any of our muscles are strained, they tend to cause our whole body to fatigue.

 


Time spent outdoors in wide open spaces gives our eyes a chance to function in their natural environment, focusing on things at a range of distances. As a side benefit, taking natural sunlight in through our eyes is a great way of regulating our body clocks, which should help with sleep.

 

Peripheral Vision Training

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Peripheral vision training is easy to do while walking.

·        Fix your gaze ahead of you
·        Concentrate on all the things you can see around you.

You can try concentrating on one periphery object until it disappears from your view completely, counting the number of people/cars you can see at once, or seeing how quickly you can notice new objects that come into view.

 

Practicing gaze stabilisation trains the extraocular muscles around your eyes, so that your eyes don’t shake while trying to concentrate on an image.
 

The way to train this is like a staring contest: look at one point on an object for as long as you possibly can.
 

Uncontrollable blinking, blurry vision, frowning/squinting or eyes watering/stinging are indicators that you have reached your limit and should stop.
 

You may be surprised at how little time you can manage at the beginning, as our eyes generally do not spend much time completely still, but similar to the active focus exercises your goal is to build up the time you can endure this.


For added benefit, try staring at objects with your eyes in different positions, not just straight ahead
 

The opposite of gaze stabilisation, this involves tracking moving objects as smoothly as possible. 
 

While standing or sitting, choose an object that is moving and see how long you can follow it for without your eyes feeling like they are ‘jumping’ between locations.
 

Cars, people, pets, balls are all good objects to track, and the slower they are moving the easier the exercise will be at the beginning.
 

If you cannot find anything that is moving, hold a pen or your thumb in front of your face and write words or draw pictures in the air to follow. Try as much as you can to only move your eyes and keep your head & neck still while performing this task.

 

Prescription Reduction

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Speak with your optician about the possibility of reducing your prescription to allow your eyes to work a little harder in everyday life. While not all opticians will be on board with this, at the very least you can find out if there are any reasons this might be a bad idea for you and make an informed decision based on this.
 

Please note however that reducing your prescription may disqualify you from driving or other dangerous tasks, and it may be a good idea to have a pair of glasses at your correct prescription that you can clearly identify for such tasks.


Futher Resources


Finally, below I have included links to some of the resources I have been using for education and building my own vision training program. I wish you all the very best on your journeys!


End Myopia: Jake Steiner

Jake has a whole heap of free resources available on the subject of natural vision correction. He also has paid services as well as a Facebook forum for people to discuss their progress and ask questions.

 

See to Play: OD Michael A Peters

Michael Peters is an optometrist with experience in a wide range of sports. He trains athlete’s vision across all aspects, not just visual acuity. His book goes through the visual requirements of athletes, as well as a whole range of vision training exercises to try at home.

 

Vision Gym: Z Health Performance Solutions

The Vision Gym is a comprehensive vision training program designed by Dr. Eric Cobb of Z Health Performance Solutions. This product contains video tutorials on how to perform each exercise as well as downloadable vision charts, resources and a daily follow along video program. 

https://zhealtheducation.com/product/the-vision-gym/

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Move2perform is made up of Gareth and James.
Their background in elite gymnastics, acrobatics, strength and conditioning and rehabilitation has allowed them to develop a unique approach to coaching using neurological and biomechanical methods to get anyone at any level moving pain free.
Website | Facebook page | YouTube channel

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