Although she had never been active, Bridger, a retail store manager, signed up for a group fitness class at Orangetheory. “I had to force myself to walk in,” she said. The workout, which involved a treadmill, rowing machine, and free weights, was challenging. But she was hooked. And after six months, she was confident enough to try something she had always wanted to do: a 5K race. She hasn’t stopped running since. Her new active lifestyle, she said, has benefited her physically and emotionally.

If you’re a sedentary adult, as Bridger was, meeting the recommended weekly goals of at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity may seem overwhelming. You may even think there’s no way you can counter years of inactivity. But Bridger’s experience illustrates what recent research is showing us: It’s never too late to start exercising and reap the health rewards.

Consider a study published this year in JAMA Network Open that looked at the activity levels of 315,059 participants from 50 to 71 years old at four different points in their lives (15 to 18, 19 to 29, 35 to 39, and 40 to 61). Researchers found that the participants who were previously inactive but increased their physical activity in later adulthood (40 to 61 years old) to four to seven hours per week had a 35 percent lower mortality risk than those who remained inactive. Participants who were already active and maintained their exercise levels into later adulthood achieved a 29 to 36 percent lower risk. The fact that older adults who had maintained their exercise levels and older adults who were new to exercise experienced a comparable lower risk of mortality suggests midlife is not too late to start physical activity.

A University of Cambridge study of 14,599 adults aged 40 to 79 published this year reached similar conclusions. Researchers found that adults with cardiovascular disease and cancer gained substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, regardless of their past physical activity levels. Those who had been inactive at the start and increased to an average of 30 minutes of moderate activity per day showed about 24 percent lower mortality risk.

“There are clearly benefits at all levels” of activity, said lead researcher Soren Brage, a principal investigator with the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. “The most encouraging is you don’t have to be a super-athlete, and it’s never too late.” And the health benefits were seen no matter a participant’s body mass index, blood pressure or cholesterol. “Even if you have an established risk factor profile, you will still reap the benefits of increasing activity levels,” Brage said.