Most of us choose to live healthy because we want to prevent the development of disease, heal a health condition, or simply live a long, healthy life. But does all our effort pay off in the long run? A recent study published in the British Medical Journal says our efforts do pay off—in length of life.

The study followed over 1,800 people aged 75 years or more for 18 years and found that the average survival of people with healthy lifestyle behaviors, with participation in at least one healthy leisure activity, and with a good social network was 5.4 years longer than in those people with unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, no leisure activities, and limited or poor social networks.

The researchers found that people who did not smoke lived one year longer than those who did, but they also found that former smokers had a similar survival rate as nonsmokers. That’s good news—if you haven’t given up the habit yet, an extra year of life is great incentive, no?

The leisure activity most associated with extra years of life was physical exercise, not surprisingly. Those who regularly swam, walked, or did gymnastics fared best. I know what you’re thinking, Gymnastics after age 75? Apparently it’s a good sign of health. If you happen to be a 75-year-old gymnast, you’re in luck. If not, get walking or swimming.  It’s never too late to start.

This study added to previous studies in that it examined healthy lifestyle at advanced ages. Even those people over age 85 who had a healthier lifestyle were more likely to live longer than those with an unhealthy lifestyle. This week, consider your lifestyle. Is it healthy? Do you get regular physical exercise? Do you have a good social network? If not, begin to improve these areas of your life so that you, too, can live a longer, more vibrant life.