How to exercise your eyes

Your doctor may prescribe eye exercises if you have:

  • Trouble focusing your eyes to read
  • One eye that drifts outward or inward (convergence insufficiency)
  • Had surgery and need to improve muscle control
  • Crossed eyes (strabismus)
  • Lazy eye (amblyopia)
  • Trouble with depth perception (poor 3D vision)

Doctors may also recommend eye exercises for conditions involving how your eyes work together. These conditions can cause problems such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eyestrain
  • Increased light sensitivity

Exercises won’t help if you:

  • Have dyslexia
  • Blink a lot
  • Squint
  • Have eye spasms
  • Have a paralyzed eye muscle

How to Exercise Your Eyes

Eye exercises are designed to strengthen your eye muscles, help you focus, ease eye movements, and stimulate your brain’s vision center. As you practice them and move on to new ones, you’ll learn how to control your eye muscles and see the way you should. Your exercise plan will depend on several things, including your age and your eye condition.

Here are some exercises you can try:

The 20-20-20 rule. When you’re focused on a task, pause every 20 minutes to focus on something that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Blink break. You blink less when you’re focused on a TV or computer screen. If you start to notice dry eyes or the beginnings of a headache, stop and try to blink at a normal rate.

Palms for relaxation. Gently cup your palms over your closed eyes until all the afterimages fade to black, about 30 seconds. Make sure not to put any pressure on your eyes.

Figure eight. Imagine a big number 8 turned on its side about 10 feet in front of you. Slowly sketch it with your eyes several times. Then go the other direction.

Roll your eyes. Look right and left several times without moving your head. Then look up and down several times.

Near and far. This is good for people who wear glasses. Take them off and hold your thumbs in the air, one near your face and one farther away. For 2 seconds each, focus on the near thumb, then the far one, something across the room, and something even farther away, like across the street.

Vision Therapy

Eye exercises can be part of vision therapy. Think of it like physical therapy for your eyes. Your optometrist may give you a vision therapy plan in order to improve your visual skill, make you more comfortable, and change how your brain interprets what you see. The program might also include special lenses, prisms, patches, electronic targets, or balance boards.

For example, your child may use vision therapy if they have lazy eye, a loss of vision in one eye because they use the other eye more. The condition usually starts in childhood. First, your child may get glasses. Then, the doctor will put a patch over their good eye or use eye drops to blur it so they have to rely more on the lazy eye. Exercises can also force your child’s brain to see through the weaker eye, which helps restore vision.

Show Sources

Yanoff, M; Duker, J. Ophthalmology, Mosby, 2008.

National Institute on Aging: “Aging and Your Eyes.”

MedlinePlus: “Vision Problems.”

InSight Vision Center: “6 eye relaxation exercises that actually work to improve your vision.”

American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: “Vision Therapy.”

How to exercise your eyes

If you wear glasses or contacts, chances are you’ve been at least a little bit tempted to investigate the infomercials and books promoting eye exercises to improve your eyesight without surgery. Some programs even claim that faithful adherents may be able to give up their glasses. If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Purveyors of self-directed eye exercise programs have not conducted randomized trials to verify the effectiveness of their programs, and there is no medical evidence for their oft-stated claim that wearing lenses weakens the eyes and necessitates ever-stronger prescription eyewear. Furthermore, some programs are based on ideas that don’t quite square with the anatomy and physiology of vision.

Practiced faithfully, eye exercises may actually help delay the need for glasses or contacts in some people. But you don’t need to buy a special program of exercises or follow prescribed visual gymnastics to accomplish these things. If your eyes are tired from excessive close-up work — such as staring at the computer — visual breaks to focus on objects at longer distances are a good idea. And it’s important to encourage your visual system to do its best.

Exercising eye muscles will not eliminate the most common maladies that necessitate corrective lenses — namely, nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia (age-related lens stiffening). Above all, eye exercises will do nothing for glaucoma and macular degeneration.

What of the claim that glasses make eyes weaker and more dependent on wearing them? It’s largely a matter of perception. People often tolerate a lot of blur before they start wearing corrective lenses, but “once they get used to the correction, the same level of blur is no longer acceptable to them. So they perceive that their eyes have been weakened.” Also, the natural progression to stronger and stronger lenses that accompanies nearsightedness early in life may create the impression that corrective lenses make eyes weaker. Presbyopia (age-related lens stiffening) likewise progresses with time, so a farsighted person will find it increasingly difficult to see well without corrective eyewear. In none of these cases have glasses or contacts weakened the eyes.

Will getting a weaker prescription than you’re used to somehow train your eyes to see better, as some eye exercise programs advise? It’s certainly possible that some people wear stronger glasses than they need, so they may be able to back off their prescription a bit. You need to use your accommodative system to keep it flexible, and you can facilitate this by wearing lenses no stronger than you need. Also, don’t be in a hurry to start wearing reading glasses. But wearing weaker lenses than you need won’t help, especially once presbyopia kicks in.

Until evidence-based research proves otherwise, it’s safe to assume that nonmedical self-help eye exercise programs won’t keep you out of glasses if you need them and won’t change the ultimate course of your nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, or astigmatism. As we age, eye exercises do absolutely nothing for glaucoma or macular degeneration — serious diseases that require professional medical help.

Image: DragonImages/Getty Images

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

This article was medically reviewed by Theodore Leng, MD. Dr. Leng is a board certified Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon and an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford University. He completed his MD and Vitreoretinal Surgical Fellowship at Stanford University in 2010. Dr. Leng is a Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons. He is also a member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Retina Society, the Macula Society, the Vit-Buckle Society, as well as the American Society of Retina Specialists. He received the Honor Award by the American Society of Retina Specialists in 2019.

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We all know how important it is to keep our bodies fit by keeping active and maintaining a regular exercise routine. But, did you know that you can exercise your eyes as well? Eye exercises are designed to strengthen your eye muscles, improve focusing, eye movements, and stimulate the vision center of your brain. While there is no scientific proof that eye exercises will improve your eyesight, they may help to counteract existing eye problems you may have and maintain your current eyesight level. [1] X Research source

Not only does your body need exercise but your eyes need a workout too!

Eye health is just as important as anything else, so taking the time to exercise your eyes for people who may have myopia, or nearsightedness, and/or astigmatism are essential.

Check out these 6 easy eye exercises that have been known to improve vision and help relax your eyes.

1. Blinking

Blinking is a simple way to keep your eyes fresh and helps them to focus longer. Computer users and television watchers tend to blink less, especially when they are intently focused on something. Whenever you blink, your eyes are going into a brief period of darkness which helps to keep your eyes fresh and discharges previous information to make them ready for new information, which reduces eye strain.

2. The Figure Eight / Infinity Loop

This a great exercise for your eye muscles. This exercise helps you increase your eyes’ flexibility.

How to practice “The Figure Eight”:

1. Imagine a giant figure of eight (8) in front of you about 10 feet in front of you.
2. Now turn the figure eight on it’s side.
3. Trace the figure of eight with your eyes, slowly.
4. Do it one way for a few minutes and then do it the other way for a few minutes.

3. Near and Far Focusing

This exercise will strengthen the muscles in your eyes over time and improve your vision overall.

How to practice “Near and Far Focusing”:

1. Sitting or standing, place your thumb about 10 inches in front of you and focus on it.
2. Now focus on something else about 10–20 feet in front of you.
3. Take deep breaths between focusing on your thumb and the object 10-20 feet away from you.

4. Zooming

This exercise is a very effective eye focusing exercise, in which you have to constantly adjust the length of your focus. This helps strengthen your eye muscles as well.

How to practice “Zooming”:

1. Sit in a comfortable position.
2. Stretch out your arm with your thumb in the hitchhiking position.
3. Focus on your thumb as your arm is outstretched.
4. Now bring your thumb closer to you, focusing until your thumb is about 3 inches in front of your face.
5. Now move your thumb away again until your arm is fully outstretched.
6. Do this for a few minutes at a time throughout the day.

5. Around the World

It’s important to stretch your eye muscles to help prevent presbyopia, which may happen where the elasticity in your eye deteriorates due to the lack of eye movement, making it harder to focus on objects at varying distances.

How to practice “Around the World”:

1. Sit in a comfortable position or stand in a traffic-free area.
2. Closed both eyes or leave them open, making sure that your head does not move when conducting the following eye movements.
3. Look up and hold for 3 seconds and then look down and hold for another 3 seconds. If your eyes are opened, wait till your eyes focus on an object before moving onto the next eye exercise.
4. Look to the right as far as you can and hold for 3 seconds and then look to the left as far as you can and hold for 3 seconds.
5. Look to the top left and hold for 3 seconds and then look to the top right and hold for 3 seconds.
6. Rotate your eyeball clockwise 2 times and then counterclockwise 2 times.

6. Palming

This exercise helps relieve stress around the eyes and gives your eyes a much needed break.

How to practice “Palming”:

1. Make yourself comfortable while leaning forward on a desk or with your elbows resting on your knees.
2. Place your two hands over your eyes with the cup of your palm covering your eyes, your fingers on your forehead and the heel of your hand will rest on your cheekbone.
3. Make sure you can blink freely and are not putting too much pressure on your eyes.

Palming gives you the opportunity to rest your mind and your eyes for a few minutes at a time. It may not sound like much of an exercise but it can make a big difference in your working day if you stop for a few minutes and do this exercise.

Check out more eye exercises like this 5 step massage to help alleviate your tired eyes!

Important Safety Information

The Visian ICL is intended for the correction of moderate to high nearsightedness. Visian ICL and Visian TICL surgery is intended to safely and effectively correct nearsightedness between -3.0 D to -15.0 D, the reduction in nearsightedness up to -20.0 D and treatment of astigmatism from 1.0 D to 4.0 D. If you have nearsightedness within these ranges, Visian ICL surgery may improve your distance vision without eyeglasses or contact lenses. Because the Visian ICL corrects for distance vision, it does not eliminate the need for reading glasses, you may require them at some point, even if you have never worn them before.

Implantation of the Visian ICL is a surgical procedure, and as such, carries potentially serious risks. Please discuss the risks with your eye care professional. Complications, although rare, may include need for additional surgical procedures, inflammation, loss of cells from the back surface of the cornea, increase in eye pressure, and cataracts.

You should NOT have Visian ICL surgery if:

  • Your doctor determines that the shape of your eye is not an appropriate fit for the Visian ICL
  • You are pregnant or nursing
  • You do not meet the minimum endothelial cell density for your age at the time of implantation as determined by your eye doctor
  • Your vision is not stable as determined by your eye doctor

Before considering Visian ICL surgery you should have a complete eye examination and talk with your eye care professional about Visian ICL surgery, especially the potential benefits, risks, and complications. You should discuss the time needed for healing after surgery. For additional information with potential benefits, risks and complications please visit DiscoverICL.com

References

1 Visian ICL Patient Information Booklet

2 Sanders D. Vukich JA. Comparison of implantable collamer lens (ICL) and laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) for Low Myopia. Cornea. 2006 Dec; 25(10):1139-46.

3 Naves, J.S. Carracedo, G. Cacho-Babillo, I. Diadenosine Nucleotid Measurements as Dry-Eye Score in Patients After LASIK and ICL Surgery. Presented at American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) 2012.

4 Shoja, MR. Besharati, MR. Dry eye after LASIK for myopia: Incidence and risk factors. European Journal of Ophthalmology. 2007; 17(1): pp. 1-6.

5a Lee, Jae Bum et al. Comparison of tear secretion and tear film instability after photorefractive keratectomy and laser in situ keratomileusis. Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery , Volume 26 , Issue 9 , 1326 – 1331.

5b Parkhurst, G. Psolka, M. Kezirian, G. Phakic intraocular lens implantantion in United States military warfighters: A retrospective analysis of early clinical outcomes of the Visian ICL. J Refract Surg. 2011;27(7):473-481.