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(CNN)Even if you've never been physically active, you can start moving now and see benefits.
That's according to a new study, which found that any amount of physical activity starting at any age is helpful for long-term cognitive health.
Researchers already knew that people who participate in physical activity in their leisure time have a lower risk for dementia and higher cognitive function later in life than those who are inactive, said study author Dr. Sarah-Naomi James, a research fellow at MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London.
What researchers didn't know was whether there was a specific time in life by which a person needed to get active or if there was an activity threshold they needed to meet to see those benefits, James said.
The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, tracked the physical activity patterns of nearly 1,500 people over the course of 30 years in adulthood. At age 69, the participants were tested on their cognitive state, verbal memory and processing speed, according to the study.
While lifelong physical activity was associated with the best cognitive results later in life, being active at any time to any extent was associated with higher cognition, the study found.
Even people who became active in their 50s or 60s achieved better cognitive scores when they reached 70 years old, James said. A surprisingly small amount of activity — as little as once a month — at any time across adulthood was helpful, she added.
"It seems clear from this study and others that small doses of exercise across the lifespan and starting young is very beneficial to long term health," said Dr. William Roberts, professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, via email.
Roberts was not involved in the research.
On a societal level, the findings show a need for more access to education that encourage skills and motivation for physical activity at any age, according to the study.
How to get active
For people who have been active regularly, the results should be encouraging and suggest that their investment can pay off, Roberts said.
"For people who have never been physically active, or have gone through a period of inactivity, start!" James said via email.
If you are not exactly an athlete who loves to break a sweat, there are still ways to work some activity into your life.
To build a habit that sticks, it is important to set a goal, make a specific plan, find a way to make it fun, stay flexible and get social support, said behavioral scientist Katy Milkman, author of "How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be," in a 2021 interview with CNN. Milkman is the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.