You weren’t part of sports leagues in your 20s and 30s. You hardly went to the gym, ate whatever you pleased, and spent a lot of time on the couch. Now you’re older and beginning to feel the effects of aging. You find that it is so much harder to drop pounds now and you’re breathing heavier every time you climb a flight of stairs. If you wish you’d gotten fit earlier new research says it is not too late to start. Those who kick off an exercise program later in life reap many of the same benefits as people who’d been active even decades earlier.

Reduced Mortality Risk

One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that it can lengthen your life. Being active regularly for as little as 2 to 8 hours a week can reduce mortality by as much as 36 percent. A new study finds that this is true regardless of whether you start as young as 15 or as late as 35 or older. The exciting recent results echo what was found in previous research conducted by scientists in Sweeden and Denmark.

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How did the survey work? The fitness and mortality rates of those who got more active later in life were compared to those who were lifelong exercisers. Those who started later still had reduced mortality rates of 32 to 35 percent lower. That’s pretty close to the rates seen by lifelong fitness buffs. The survey was careful to factor in differences for lifestyle habits of participants including their diet, consumption of alcohol, and whether they smoked.

Improved Functions Promote Longer Life

Exercise, regardless of when you start, comes with a host of other benefits. Many of these are just as prominent in individuals who didn’t start getting fit until later in life. One of these benefits is a stronger metabolic function that helps improve electrolyte balance, maintain appropriate blood sugar levels, and keep kidneys functioning well. Other benefits include cancer and heart disease prevention.

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The benefits don’t stop there. Exercise can also go a long way to increase flexibility and strength benefits that prevent injury and maintain mobility. With all of these benefits, its no wonder that exercise at any age helps you live longer.

What if you exercise young and stop later?

So, what if you’ve been a lifelong fitness buff, but decide to take things easier as you age. Maybe injuries are preventing you from getting as active as you’d like. Or the pace of your life makes it harder to take time to fit in a workout. Unfortunately, there’s not good news here. Survey results show that those who stop being active can lose many of the benefits fitness brings. Their reduced mortality risk lowered to between eight and 14 percent. While that’s better than no risk at all, it is not nearly as good as those who continue to work out.

How much activity makes a difference?

The study is clear that those who exercise for at least two hours a day you receive the most benefits. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of elevated activity each week. They also suggest strength training at least twice a week.

Always listen to your body

For anyone who is looking to get fit at any age, it is important to remember to approach the activity with the right mindset. Though you might be excited about the expected health benefits you’re going to see, don’t push your body beyond reasonable limits. You should expect to grow into the kind of fitness levels you want to receive, not reach them overnight. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor about the kinds of fitness levels that are right for you.