If you are a regular weightlifter perhaps you should bear in mind that you could be increasing your chances of developing glaucoma, a condition that can make you blind, say Brazilian researchers.

The scientists found that weightlifting is associated with a temporary increase in intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye). Introcular pressure is raised further if the person holds his/her breath during reps. This increase in pressure inside the eye raises the risk of developing glaucoma.
Reps = repetitions of an exercise. The total repetitions done in one go is called a Set. A person may do ‘3 sets of 7 reps of a bench press exercise’)

You can read about this study in the journal Archives of Ophthalmology.

When air is forced against a closed windpipe (Valsalva manoeuvre) pressure inside the eyeball tends to go up. Valsalva manoeuvre commonly occurs when a person coughs, vomits, plays a brass wind instrument (trumpet) and does heavy weightlifting.

Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, cycling and swimming is usually followed by a fall in intraocular pressure. In fact, even non-aerobic exercise, such as weightlifting is also followed by a drop in intraocular pressure. The difference is that during the act of heavy weightlifting intraocular pressure can go up.

The scientists did research on 30 weight-training men. None of the men at the start of the study had any signs of glaucoma. All of them had normal intraocular pressure (

1. holding their breath during the four reps
2. breathing normally during the four reps

While they were holding their breath, pressure in the right eye was measured. While they breathed normally, pressure in the left eye was measured. In both cases eye pressure was measured during the last rep.

When they held their breath
Eye pressure rose 4.3 mm of mercury (average) in 90% of the weightlifters.

When they breathed normally
Eye pressure rose 2.2 mm or mercury in 62% of weightlifters.

The researchers concluded that prolonged weightlifting might be a potential risk factor for the development as well as the progression of glaucoma.

Team leader, Dr Geraldo Magela Vieira, said “Intermittent intraocular pressure increases during weightlifting should be suspected in patients with normal-tension glaucoma who perform such exercises. Patients with normal-tension glaucoma should be questioned as to a history of regular weightlifting.”

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually takes away a person’s eyesight without warning. During the initial stages of Glaucoma there are often no symptoms at all. Health professionals say half of glaucoma sufferers probably don’t know they have it.

The optic nerve, which carries visual messages from the eye to the brain, becomes damaged.

There is currently no cure for Glaucoma. Medication can slow down and even prevent further vision loss. Early detection is crucial to preserve a person’s eyesight.

High pressure within the eye is a major cause of Glaucoma. It is not the only cause, as people with normal intraocular pressure have been known to experience vision loss from glaucoma.

“Intraocular Pressure Variation During Weight Lifting”
Geraldo Magela Vieira, MD; Hildeamo Bonif?cio Oliveira, MSD; Daniel Tavares de Andrade, MSD; Martim Bottaro, PhD; Robert Ritch, MD
Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124:1251-1254.
Click here to see Abstract online

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today