If you’re looking for ways to extend your life—and make those extra years healthier—heed this advice: Move at least a little and get out of the house as often as you can.

That’s the takeaway from two new studies released Wednesday that look at how those who are 65-plus can live longer. 

Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, and type 2 diabetes, but most of the research has focused on people younger than 65. 

This newest research offers a window into what exercise and activity can do for older adults

Get Moving

In the first study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Dutch researchers wanted to find out if being physically active (whether through work, exercise, household chores, or leisure activities) might reduce cardiovascular disease risk in older adults the way it does in those younger than 65.

More on Exercise

Almost 25,000 men and women in three different age groups reported their activity levels, and over the next 18 years, researchers tracked deaths and hospitalizations that were due to cardiovascular disease “events,” such as a heart attack or stroke.

They found that physical activity was just as closely linked to a lower risk of heart disease in  adults over 65 as it was in those are younger. 

For example, people older than 65 who engaged in any amount of physical activity—even for less than 30 minutes a day—had a cardiovascular disease risk up to 14 percent lower than those who didn't exercise at all.

“It can be hard to convince people in this age group to keep moving,” says Jessica Kalender-Rich, M.D., a geriatrician and associate professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Kansas’ Landon Center on Aging. “This study shows that you don’t need a very vigorous workout regimen or be walking six miles a day.  Every little bit you move is better than not moving at all.”  

Why Getting Outside Matters

In the other new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel examined how the seemingly simple act of getting out of the house (for whatever reason) was linked to the risk of dying from any disease.

They tracked men and women between the ages of 70 to 95 who lived at home, asking how often each person left the house per week on average and then tracked how long they lived.

Those who left home most frequently—whether on their own or with assistance—were significantly less likely to die during the 25-year follow-up period than those who tended to stay home, the researchers found.

For example, 71 percent of people who left home almost daily at age 78 survived to age 85, while only 44.3 percent of those who rarely went out survived that long. Similarly, 74.3 percent of those who headed out every day at age 85 lived to 90, while only 41.4 percent of those who stayed home lived that long.

“Getting out of the house is a proxy for a wider measure of being engaged with the world,” says Jeremy Jacobs, MBBS, lead study author and chairman of the Geriatric Department and Geriatric Rehabilitation Complex at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel. “Being active cognitively, reading, volunteering, and getting out of the house are all examples of a degree of activity and engagement with the world that seems to have some protective effect or that reflects an underlying attitude of resilience.”

The Takeaway

Both studies were observational, so researchers can’t say that these behaviors will definitely help you live longer or reduce your risk of heart disease.

The good news, says Kalender-Rich, is that there's no downside to giving these strategies a try. “Getting out of the house and keeping moving will help you feel better and have a better quality of life for however many years you have left,” she says.

If you’re looking to add activity to your day, start by setting a specific goal, whether it’s to stand for 10 minutes an hour or walk around the block a few times a day, suggests geriatrician Rebecca Boxer, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver-Anschutz Medical Campus.

Being more active by doing the things you enjoy (such as gardening, cooking, or even just walking around the mall) will make the increased physical activity easier to stick with—and you can add more exercise from there.

Next, incorporate a social element if you can, walking with a friend or taking a gardening class.

Finally, if there’s something keeping you inside, such as incontinence, depression, or pain, talk to your doctor to see if there’s a way to manage or treat the problem so you can improve your mobility—and get out the door more.