Don’t waste your time regretting the years you spent without sufficient exercise — getting moving at any age will prolong your life.

That’s the conclusion of a 20-year study conducted with nearly 15,000 U.K. residents age 40 to 79. The results of the study, which was run by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, appeared this week in the British Medical Journal.

Subjects who maintained or ramped up to a medium level of activity were 28% less likely to die than those who maintained a low level of activity.

The researchers divided the sample into three groups who engaged in low, medium, and high levels of activity. Then they tracked changes to the subjects’ activity over nearly eight years, then analyzed the health effects over the next 12.5.

According to the researchers, individuals who maintained or ramped up to a medium level of activity were 28% less likely to die during that second phase than those who maintained a low level of activity. What’s more, subjects who had been moderately active but raised their activity level achieved a whopping 42% increase in survival compared to the low-activity subjects.

The effects held even for subject who ate an unhealthy diet or had experienced a health condition such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity.

So how much activity is required? The study defined it according to World Health Organization guidelines:

  • Low: Less than the WHO guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity
  • Medium: Matching the WHO guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week
  • High: The WHO guideline of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity (or an equivalent, such as 75 weekly minutes of high-intensity activity, or 60 minutes of high-intensity activity and 30 minutes of medium-intensity activity per week)

The team hopes the study will inspire more people to pick up the page, whatever their age: “These results are encouraging, not least for middle aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity.”

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