It may be the easiest way to preserve cognitive health, even for those who are younger than 65.
Credit: Getty: Tara Moore

The key to enjoying a good memory, even as you age, could actually be tied to how physical you are—new research suggests that the amount of daily activity you enjoy could influence memory and thinking skills. And it's applicable to anyone at any age: leading a more active lifestyle, beyond regular exercise routines, could help you maintain mental health in the face of old age.

A new study, published this week in the American Academy of Neurology's journal Neurology, compared levels of physical activity among 454 participants who were two years from death. Less than half, about 191, of participants already were diagnosed with dementia, while another 263 were not. After their deaths, researchers actually examined their brain tissue before discovering that those who were more active (who moved about 20% more than average) ended up with better tissue overall.

"People who moved more had better thinking and memory skills compared to those who didn't move much at all,” Aron S. Buchman, MD, of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, wrote in a release. "We found movement may essentially provide a reserve to help maintain thinking and memory skills when there are signs of dementia present in the brain."

Buchman, the study's lead author, said that his team also found a correlation between people who had better motor skills (or those skills that help our coordination and movement overall) and those with superior memories and cognitive health.

More on mental health:

"Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health, and our study shows it may have a protective effect on the brain," Buchman said.

To be clear, researchers say the study doesn't show a clear cause and effect method here—it could be possible that as people's cognitive health declines, their physical activity is also declining as well.

"More studies are needed to determine if moving more is truly beneficial to the brain," Buchman says.

Improving physical activity doesn't mean you need to hit the gym every single day, however: new federal guidelines suggest that any form of physical movement can benefit your health and, possibly, your brain. That includes simple activities such as cleaning your house or taking the stairs more often.