It’s never too late to start exercising–even if you’re retired. Even people who have never exercised until they reach their 60s can still benefit and enjoy a healthy old age, a new study has found.

The study, by researchers from University College London, assessed the health of 3,454 adults with an average age of 64 over an eight-year period. Sustained and frequent physical activity for four years increased by seven times the chances of a healthy, disease-free, old age compared to someone who is physically inactive.

It doesn’t seem to matter when you start exercising, either. The participants who started exercising only at the start of the study – but had been inactive before – were still three times more likely to be ‘healthy agers’ by the end of the study compared to those who never did exercise during the lifetime of the trial. Exercise doesn’t just help ward off the usual chronic diseases of old age, it also keeps us mentally sharp, too.

Regular exercisers maintained a good memory, and were able to lead an active social life. And the exercise doesn’t have to be too onerous or regular, either. Those who did moderate to vigorous exercise at least once a week at the start of the study were four times more likely to be classified as ‘a healthy ager’ eight years later. The key, say the researchers, is little and often when it comes to exercise.

(Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013; doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092993)