Weightlifting hikes eye pressure

By HSC Staff Writers • Published: December 15th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Visit any health club and you’ll see fitness buffs lifting weights. But recent research indicates the breath-holding sometimes used during weightlifting exercises could have an unintended effect: A pressure spike inside the eye that could raise the risk of vision loss.

Pressure within the eye, otherwise known as intraocular pressure, generally wanes during aerobic workouts such as running or rowing. But new research by ophthalmologists in Brazil reveals that higher intraocular pressure can occur during some anaerobic types of exercise, like weightlifting, that involve the Valsalva [vahl-sahl-vuh] maneuver. This maneuver forces air against a closed windpipe, similar to what often occurs during coughing or while playing wind instruments.

Researchers performed two tests on thirty men with normal eye pressure who didn’t have glaucoma, an increase in eye pressure that damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss.

During the first test, pressure was measured in the right eye while subjects performed four repetitions, holding their breath during the last one. Next, left eye pressure was measured during the same four-rep set, only this time breath was not held during the last rep.

Intraocular pressure increased in ninety percent of the participants who held their breath. In contrast, pressure increased in just over sixty percent of the subjects when they did not hold their breath. The bottomline? Breath-holding during your weightlifting workout should be avoided wherever possible, as it could even worsen glaucoma in patients who already have the condition.