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June 13, 1999

Exercise and Sports

Question from :

I have read that people should not use hand weights if they have retinopathy. Can people with retinopathy use any upper extremity resistance or weights? What is the reason?


First of all, you must remember to consult your ophthalmologist and physician for specific weight restrictions and limitations. If you exercise with untreated proliferative retinopathy and without the guidance of an ophthalmologist and physician, you are placing your vision in jeopardy.

Exercise is recommended with caution for individual’s with proliferative retinopathy because of the correlation of high blood pressure and retinal damage or hemorrhage.

Individuals with background retinopathy do no require the same monitoring as individuals who have proliferative (advanced stages) retinopathy. Low-impact activities that do not significantly increase blood pressure are most suitable. Strenuous upper body exercise should be avoided because of increased peripheral resistance that could result in increased blood pressure and therefore the possibility of retinal damage or hemorrhage. Avoid use of the Valsalva maneuvers. Avoid heavy weight lifting, breath holding and high intensity exercise.

With proliferative and severe stages of retinopathy, avoid strenuous high- intensity activities that involve breath holding or Valsalva maneuvers (weight lifting and isometrics). Avoid exercises/activities that involve lowering the head below the waist (yoga, gymnastics) or that risk jarring the head which can cause an excessive rise in blood pressure.

Resistive exercises (use of standard weight-lifting equipment) are generally not recommended. If you strongly desire this type of exercise you need your physicians approval before starting out and then focus on high repetition and low resistance.

Lastly, your doctor may have you monitor your blood pressure and heart rate while you engage in weight training to make sure your blood pressure and heart rate are within safe limits for you.