A man’s midlife crisis may tell more about his future health than he previously thought, it just depends how fit he is by the halfway mark. Researchers from the University of Vermont in Colchester crunched the numbers and found significant benefits that could not only lower the risk of developing cancer but also prevent death by cancer. Their findings, published in the JAMA Oncology, have revealed physical activity as a natural solution to lowering cancer risk.

"Men who are physically fit are expected to have lower levels of [cancer-related] sex hormones, enhanced immunity, and lower inflammation," the study’s lead researcher Dr. Susan Lakoski, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Vermont, said according to Reuters Health. "These effects may act together to inhibit cancer as well as risk of dying from cancer or heart disease."

Lakoski and her research team examined data from fitness assessments conducted on men of the average age of 49 years old between 1971 and 2009, and another set of data on men of the average age of 65 years old between 1999 and 2009. On average, 6.5 years after the initial checkup, 1,310 out of the 13,949 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, 200 with lung cancer, and 181 with colon cancer. When researchers compared the cancer rates in the follow-ups to each man’s fitness level, they found a consistent trend: exercise changed their risk.

The fittest men had a 55 percent lower risk of lung cancer and a 44 percent lower risk of colon cancer compared to the unfit men. Only nine percent of the fit men smoked, compared to the 31 percent of unfit men who smoked, which researchers said it’s likely that’s why a fit man’s lung cancer risk is so much lower. They also found even if a fit man developed lung, colon, or prostate cancer, they still had a 32 percent lower risk of dying from it. Fit men were also 68 percent less likely to die from a cardiovascular disease or related cause.

"Importantly, fit men who developed prostate cancer in the current study had a lower risk of dying of cancer or cardiovascular disease," Lakoski said. "This speaks to the importance of being fit in midlife to improve survival, even if a man ultimately develops lung, prostate, or colorectal cancer. Future studies are needed to test these results across all major cancers in men and women, and also address how much an individual must change their fitness to see cancer prevention benefit."

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 40.4 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. In 2014, there were an estimated 1,665,540 new cases of cancer within the U.S. Fitness has the potential to lower those rates in men, based on the study’s new findings. Next step: How much can exercise benefit and lower cancer risk for women?

Source: Jones LW. Fitness Level Associated with Lower Risk of Some Cancers, Death in Men. JAMA Oncology. 2015.