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To examine whether measures of cognitive performance across life are related to physical performance at age 53 years, allowing for potential confounders.In a large representative British birth cohort of men and women (N = 2135) the associations between cognitive performance across life (i.e., standardized cognition scores at ages 15, 43, and 53 years and changes in verbal memory and search speed scores between 43 and 53 years) and measures of physical performance at age 53 years (i.e., standing balance, chair rising, and grip strength) were examined. Adjustments were made for body size, physical activity levels, health status, and socioeconomic conditions at age 53 years.Higher cognitive scores on all childhood and adult tests, and a slower decline in verbal memory and search speed, were associated with better standing balance. Higher verbal fluency scores and a slower decline in verbal memory and search speed were more strongly related than scores on tests of general cognitive ability to chair rising. The relationships between cognitive performance and grip strength were inconsistent and weak.The differential patterns of association found are consistent with the degree to which each is dependent on central nervous system function. Our findings suggest that initial developmental differences as well as shared ageing processes may underlie associations found between cognitive and physical performance.CNS = central nervous system; MRC = Medical Research Council; NSHD = National Survey of Health and Development; NART = National Adult Reading Test.