February is American Heart Month. Did you know that the same issues that can damage blood vessels in your heart can also harm the tiny blood vessels that supply blood to your eye? 

The three major risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), high cholesterol and diabetes — can also cause age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal artery occlusion and retinal vein occlusion. 

Often, this damage to your eyes can occur for years before you even begin to experience any symptoms. Left untreated, it can permanently impact your sight. Here are a few steps you can take to keep both your heart and your eyes healthy:

  1. Stop smoking. In addition to protecting your eyes, it will lower your risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease. Quitting at any age can significantly reduce your risk.
  2. Exercise. It helps to lower your blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. 
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Proper diet and exercise are the best ways to take off extra pounds.
  4. Eat healthy foods. Try to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collards as well as cold water fish like tuna, salmon and sardines are especially good for your heart and eyes. 
  5. Know your family history. If you have an immediate family member with heart disease or diabetes, be sure to share this with all of your doctors, including your ophthalmologist or optometrist. This family history can increase your risk and requires that you be extra careful about taking preventive steps to protect your heart health and vision. 
  6. Get regular eye exams. Your eyes are more than a window to your soul — they are also a window to your heart. In fact, by viewing the blood vessels in the retina of your eye during a dilated eye exam, your eye doctor can detect early signs of high blood pressure/hypertension. As with most health concerns, early detection leads to the most effective treatment. A comprehensive annual eye exam is one of the most important steps you can take to preserve your sight and overall health.