More benefits of exercise

Some things just get better with age -- and exercise is one of them.

Sure, fitness is important for the young, old and everyone in between. But new research shows how regular activity is especially critical to healthy aging.

It's as if the benefits of exercise actually get better as you get older -- because seniors who step up their activity have much healthier hearts, with better heart rate variability than seniors who get little to no movement.

Heart rate variability refers to changes in the amount of time between each heartbeat. These changes are incredibly small -- but they're also incredibly important.

A healthy heart has very little variability, and changes in that variability can often be an early warning sign of a heart problem.

Exercise, however, can help make sure that your heart stays as steady as a drumbeat -- and based on the numbers in the study in Circulation, that alone could slash your risk of a heart attack or death from cardiac problems by 11 percent.

But it's important to note that the biggest benefits  of exercise didn't go simply to people who got regular exercise.

No, they actually went to seniors who stepped up their exercise during the five-year study, especially those who improved their walking pace or distance.

In other words, if you haven't been exercising, it's not too late to get started as long as you're ready to get moving.

You can begin with something as simple as a walk. Get outside, hit the pavement, and see how far you can go. Then, get to work on improving it. Add more distance and more time, and pick up the pace a little bit.

Consider each step a step toward good health and longevity.

And if you have been exercising, congratulations -- but don't stop now. See if you can improve on what you're already doing.