Men who exercise vigorously for two and a half hours a week can add an extra three years to their lives, a long-term study from the University of WA reveals.
The 13-year study of more than 12,000 elderly Perth men also found that those who were regularly active had a better quality of life and had less depression, memory loss and functional incapacity.
Lead author Osvaldo Almeida, from UWA's School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, said the study showed that sustained activity - defined as 150 minutes or more a week of exertion - resulted in improved survival and better quality of life.
Of the men surveyed in the 13 years, just 2058 - or 16.9 per cent - were physically active.
Professor Almeida said it was never too late for men to take up regular exercise because inactive men who became active still reaped the benefits.
But men who were active at the start of the study, then gave it up over the next 10 to 13 years all but lost the health benefits.
"The message is that it's never too late to start physical activity and by engaging in regular activity, older people not only survive longer but they ensure the chance of them ageing successfully - without significant functional impairments - also increases," Professor Almeida said.
"Not only do they add years to their life but they add quality."
He said physical exertion could involve vigorous household chores such as gardening or heavy lifting but not just a walk around the block.
Men who struggle with exercising are advised to break up the activity to three bursts of 10 minutes a day.
"We're not asking that people be out and about at least half an hour a day, five days a week," Professor Almeida said.
"Bursts of 10 minutes have the same effect."
The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is part of the Health in Men Study that recruited 12,201 men aged between 65-83 in 1996.
The team has published more than 100 papers on a range of men's health and ageing issues.
According to State Government body Healthway, there are about 8000 preventable deaths each year associated with physical inactivity and the direct health care costs are estimated at $400 million a year.