A lifetime of exercise can keep you fit and functional, but can a Johnny-come-lately expect similar benefits? According to Dr. Jeremy M. Jacobs of Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, Israel, even people who first start exercising after the age of 80 can enjoy the benefits of longer life and longer independence. To research the benefits of physical activity for the very old, Dr. Jacobs and his colleagues studied mortality data on 1,861 people from the Jerusalem Longitudinal Cohort Study(1990-2008), ages 70 to 88, and assessed their health and functional status at ages 70, 78 and 85. They compared those who were physically active—exercising for at least 4 hours of each week—to those who were sedentary, exercising less than 4 hours of each week. Their results appear in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Among exercise’s many advantages, being active helped seniors maintain their independence and be better able to perform typical activities of daily living; being active at age 78, for instance, doubled the likelihood of being functional at 85. Mortality rates also improved across the age breakdowns. Among sedentary 70-year-olds, the 8-year mortality rate was 27 percent compared to just 15 percent for active seniors. Among sedentary 78-years-olds, the 8-year mortality rate was 41 percent, but only 26 percent for active ones. Among 85-year-olds, 3-year mortality rate was just under 7 percent for active people and over 24 percent for sedentary ones. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous; gentle walking for just over 30 minutes a day is great for fitness as well as meeting people and interacting with the outside world, said Dr. Jacobs. Of course, if you have any health limitations, get your doctor’s OK before starting.