mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
Running improves memory
Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Run Now, Remember More Later

TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

It's easy to put off the gym until tomorrow, but here's a reason not to delay: cardio activities like running in young adulthood are linked to better memory and recall in middle age.

Researchers studied 2,747 healthy participants, all around age 25. For the first year of the study, published in the journal Neurology, the participants were studied while walking or running on the treadmill until they were out of breath. On average, participants were able to stay on the treadmill for 10 minutes.

Twenty years later, the participants underwent the treadmill tests once again, and their average time fell to 2.9 minutes. At 25 years after the first treadmill test, participants were then given cognitive tests that analyzed their verbal memory, executive function, and their brain's relationship between thinking skills and physical movement (psychomotor speed). For every extra minute people completed on the first treadmill test, participants got 0.12 more words right in a word memory test. In a test for psychomotor speed, they were able to replace 0.92 more numbers with symbols, as the test directed. The participants who lost less time on the treadmill between year one and year 20 also performed better on executive function tests.

Although the differences were modest, the researchers note that the memory-related tests used in the study have been shown to be accurate identifiers for dementia. In some of the tests, an additional word recalled is associated with a 18% lower risk of developing dementia in 10 years, according to the authors.

So when it comes to exercising and preserving brain health, the saying "it's never to late" might not apply, unfortunately.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.