I’m regularly pitching the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, hoping that each new story will connect with readers, prompting them to adopt positive behaviors.
This has me continually trolling for new installments to an already long list that includes a longer life, reduced risk of disease and psychological well-being. Recently, I discovered two more that opened my eyes and put a smile on my face.
By pure coincidence, my schedule included an annual eye exam and a routine dental visit within a couple weeks of each other. The proximity of the appointments got me thinking – does our lifestyle influence the health of our eyes and teeth? We know the benefits to our bodies, but as we age our vision and our oral health are often subject to decline. Do the positive impacts of diet, exercise, good sleep and the rest contribute to these areas as well?
My eye exam gave me the first opportunity to find out. I asked the doctor: does a healthy lifestyle have an impact on the health of my eyes? Without missing a beat, his answer was an unequivocal yes. Other experts agree.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that the same activities that keep our bodies healthy can do the same for our eyes. The benefits of diet, exercise and physical activity can lower the risk of vision loss.
The National Eye Institute offers another perspective, suggesting that your risk of eye disease might be higher if you are overweight or suffer from conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Examining the effects of nutrition, the American Academy of Ophthalmology offers a laundry list of eye-healthy foods. Dr. Rebecca Taylor, an ophthalmologist in Tennessee, says a diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps both your heart and your eyes. Her list of foods that support eye health include carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, red bell peppers, avocados and almonds. Salmon, tuna, kidney beans and oysters also are among the foods that provide vision-promoting vitamins.
I didn’t have the opportunity to query my dentist, but there is ample evidence that healthy behaviors have an equally meaningful reward for our oral health.
The Mayo Clinic cites a healthy diet and limiting foods with added sugars as a means to keeping teeth in good shape.
Dentists in Vancouver reference studies that offer a correlation between oral and physical health. Research shows exercise and maintaining a healthy body are linked to oral health. It also shows a relationship between periodontal disease, lifestyle-related diseases and obesity.
And the National Health Service in the United Kingdom says a healthy diet is good for your teeth, advocating for a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
A tipping point?
Now, I don’t expect you to suddenly commit to a healthy lifestyle solely due to these contributions to your oral health and vision. However, I do believe that these factors can serve as a tipping point. Particularly as we age, our eyes and teeth become increasingly meaningful considerations. Their importance, in the context of the other lifestyle-induced benefits, have the potential to trigger behavior change.
Personally, I am much more conscious of my eyesight as I find myself continually reaching for my reading glasses. Whether reading restaurant menus or navigating my iPhone, I’ve become appreciative of the functional importance of my vision, and its impact on my quality of life.
The same can be said for my teeth. Spurred by the proliferation of iPhone photography, I find myself in more photos than ever. Maybe I’m still motivated by all the time I invested in the dentist chair and orthodontist as a kid, or perhaps, it’s the constant photos. Either way, my smile and overall oral health seem to be as front and center as ever.
So, can the benefits to your vision and oral health spur a commitment to live healthy? Well, it depends.
Finding your rewards
Harvard Medical School describes two types of rewards that can motivate healthy behavior: Hedonia (H-rewards) and Eudaimonia (E-rewards). The H-rewards represent superficial factors like looking good and acceptance by others. E-rewards are more meaningful and contribute to your well-being. The intrinsic nature of E-rewards can be especially motivating because they can create an inspired state when you feel like your life is flourishing with good relationships, personal growth and a sense of purpose.
While there may be some who see a nice smile and healthy teeth as superficial, it seems to me that, together, good vision and oral health are much more functional dimensions of life. They’re conditions that can provide you with the physical capacity to deepen your relationships, and enjoy life. In short, they give you a strong reason, along with a whole lot of others, to embark on healthy behaviors.
Now, whether you are motived by a dazzling smile or the great feeling you get from being able to read a book with your grandchild without straining over every word, if these two rewards cause you to live just a little bit healthier, then you’ll be the better for it. They will put a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face – and I will have accomplished my mission.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of “Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” Read more from Louis on his website.