Higher rates of exercise and moderate drinking could be be linked to better vision health later in life, new research found.

Husband and wife duo Ronald and Barbara Klein, professors in the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology, have spent nearly 20 years conducting the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a research analysis of the connection between alcohol consumption, regular exercise and eyesight degradation.

Between 1988 and 2013, researchers in the UW Department of Public Health, monitored the effects of exercise and alcohol consumption on the development of age-related visual impairment disorders.

The research team found people who exercise regularly had a reduction in the development of visual impairment disorders over the 20-year period, Ronald Klein said.

They also determined people who drank only occasionally also had similar reduced impairment, Ronald Klein said. However, people who drank in excess exhibited no signs of visual impairment reduction, he said.

Ronald Klein said the subjects completed a series of questionnaires to measure exercise and drinking habits. The results of the eyesight examinations and questionnaires were analyzed and compared, he said.

According to a statement from the Beaver Dam Eye Study by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the research team found that 6.7 percent of sedentary persons and 2 percent of physically active persons developed visual impairment. The statement also said 11 percent of non-drinkers, people who have not consumed alcohol within the past year, developed visual impairment while only 4.8 percent of occasional drinkers did.

Professionals in the field had seen relationships with exercise, occasional drinking and eye health, which prompted the study, Ronald Klein said. This study did not show cause and effect and it was an observational study, not an experimental trial, he said.

“It is not known whether putting people on new exercise regimens or altering their drinking habits will reduce the risk of visual impairment,” Ronald Klein said.

The research team must be careful to not insinuate that changing one’s habits will improve eyesight, Ronald Klein said.

Barbara Klein said there was still not much standardized collection of data in the field at the time, and she and Ronald Klein wished to collect ample population-based data.

The study involved going into a community and examining people’s eyesight every five years, the researchers said.

It was a population-based study located in Beaver Dam, Barbara Klein said. She said she and her husband started working there in 1988 and tried to involve all people between the ages of 43 and 86, although not everyone joined.

In the end, the research team was able to successfully cover 83 percent of the population in Beaver Dam, Barbara Klein said.

Photos from the eye examinations were graded at UW with standardized protocols and the researchers tried to ascertain certain risk factors based on the habits of the individual subjects, Barbara Klein said.

Barbara Klein said she and her husband are now involved in international studies based on the Beaver Dam Eye Study located in places such as Australia, Rotterdam, Wales and Los Angeles.

“We hope that this research can be of use in the development of future public health priorities,” Barbara Klein said.