Getty: Ariel Skelly

Getty: Ariel Skelly

There’s great news if you hate gyms and traditional workouts—regular physical activity can help your brain stay young and it does not have to be an aerobics class.

New research from the University of Pittsburgh  and the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that you may be able to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 50 percent if you just keep it moving.

Of course more traditional forms of exercise such as jogging or swimming will do the trick, but they are not necessary to protect brain health as we grow older as long as we stay fit and active.

The news is especially good for older African Americans who have higher rates of dementia, but are less likely to have the budget for pricey gym memberships.

The connection appears to be between the amount of calories you burn each day and the amount of gray matter (brain volume) your brain maintains in the areas that are responsible for memory and cognition.

The study adds to the growing body of research showing that physical activity helps protect the brain from decline. It’s an extra incentive to fight the desire to become more sedentary as you grow older.

The research team monitored information from 876 people, ages 65 or older, over five years by conducting brain scans and periodic cognitive assessments. In addition, they kept track of how often the study participants engaged in activities such as tennis, golfing, dancing and measured calorie expenditure.

They found that individuals who burned the most calories had larger gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes of the brain, areas that are associated with memory, learning and performing complex cognitive tasks. In a subset of more than 300 participants at the Pittsburgh site, those with the highest rate of calorie burn had larger gray matter volumes in key areas on initial brain scans and were half as likely to have developed Alzheimer’s disease five years later.

The study is one of the largest to look at the relationship between cognitive decline and staying active.