Anyone who habitually reads The New Yorker along with their equally habitual morning cup of joe will remember with great fondness Malcolm Gladwell's 2001 story “Java Man,” in which Gladwell considered “how caffeine created the modern world.” Now comes yet more evidence that Sweden's King Gustav III got it all wrong. Gustav, you'll perhaps remember, once tried to document the negative effects of coffee by sentencing a convicted murderer to death by forcing him to drink repeating cups of it — only to have the two doctors in charge of the experiment as well as the 18th century monarch die before the highly caffeinated prisoner did. (Go read Gladwell's story. We'll wait.)
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, the results of which were published last Thursday by New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that older coffee drinkers are more likely to live longer. (With or without Swedish prisons.) The study, which considered 400,000 people, is the largest ever done on the subject.
The study, which began in 1995 and tracked AARP members aged 50-71, found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents or infections. (Cancer rates were not effected.)
Even better, at least for those who need or want to give up the caffeinated stuff? It apparently makes no difference whether you drink regular or decaf. The study did not consider other forms of caffeinated beverages, like tea or soda, although the researchers plan to in future studies.
Earlier studies have looked at this before, with widely varying results. But this study, unlike many of the others, factored in whether the participants ate more meat, drank, smoke and got less exercise than coffee-drinkers — all issues that effect longevity.
Researchers hasten to add that this is not definitive (of course they do, being researchers) and that there are other factors that are involved or can be: whether you drink your coffee with absurd amounts of sugar and cream, for example.
So go get another double espresso and settle in for the long haul. Sounds like you'll have plenty of time to reread your copy of Outliers. And maybe put joining the AARP on your list of things to do — sooner or later, depending on your demographic — since it sounds like they have more fun than we'd thought.