INDIANAPOLIS — It's not just apples that keep the doctor away. A new study has found that regular exercise may also do its part to keep people from visits with a doctor.

The long-term study, published in December in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®” (the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine), found that physically fit men had fewer overnight hospital stays and visited their doctors less frequently.

To analyze the relationship between fitness and healthcare utilization, researchers compared the cardiorespiratory fitness level to the incidence of medical treatments in 6,679 healthy men. Researchers also set out to determine if the incidence of medical treatments decreases as one's physical fitness improves.

The men characterized as most fit based on testing done by the study organizers were less likely to visit their doctor or require medical treatments, while the incidence of medical treatments increased in the least-fit group. In addition, men who improved their fitness had a reduction in overnight hospital stays.

“Fit men, as well as those who become fit, may reduce healthcare costs by more than 50 percent,” said Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D., FACSM, one of the authors of the study. “Beyond the cost-savings, we can see a reduced need for healthcare overall for fitter men.”