Exercise relieves dry eye-associated signs and symptoms — some changes occur following short-term physical activity and others are associated with longer, regimented exercise programs, according to a literature review published in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye. 

Researchers performed a literature review of both the PubMed and Web of Science databases and included 16 papers that investigated how exercise relieves dry eye-associated signs and symptoms. Among the studies included in the review, 8 examined dry eye sign and symptom changes following a single workout session, while the other 8 investigations detailed changes following a longer-term workout regimen. A total of 2 reviewers examined the cross-sectional and observational studies for eligibility and excluded articles with participants affected by Sjögren syndrome.

An analysis of studies examining acute response to exercise revealed changes to the tear film following a single workout, which included an increase in tear volume, without an increase in the tear break-up time (TBUT), a trend in increased tear osmolarity, and a reduced concentration of several cytokines and other molecular markers of inflammation or oxidative stress, according to the report. 

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An assessment of studies exploring how long-term, regimented exercise relieves dry eye-associated signs and symptoms revealed increases in TBUT and reported symptomatic relief as determined by Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI), Symptom Assessment in Dry Eye (SANDE) score, Dry Eye Quality of life Score (DEQS), or other instruments.

The researchers explain the mechanism by which exercise relieves dry eye-associated signs and symptoms.

“Habitual physical activity or exercise produces a long-term adaptation of the autonomic nervous system, increasing the so-called ‘parasympathetic tone,'” according to the study authors. “Therefore, it can be hypothesized that under a higher, basal, tonic activity of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system due to a habitual practice of physical activity or exercise, both the lacrimal gland secretion and the physiological functioning of the Meibomian gland should be improved.”


Navarro-Lopez S, Moya-Ramón M, Gallar J, Carracedo G, Aracil-Marco A. Effects of physical activity/exercise on tear film characteristics and dry eye associated symptoms: a literature review. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. Published online May 10, 2023. doi:10.1016/j.clae.2023.101854

This article originally appeared on Optometry Advisor