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Pour another cup of coffee

Maybe the popular aspirin catch-phrase for some will change to, "Have a couple of cups of coffee and call me in the morning."

OK, so that's overdoing it, but lovers of a good cup of java first thing in the morning got an extra little pick-me-up Wednesday with a report that finds that coffee drinkers tend to live longer than their non-coffee-drinking counterparts.

That's something you might want to bring up at the break room at work this morning.

That doesn't mean coffee has suddenly turned into a health drink, but the study of 400,000 people -- the largest group ever scrutinized in this particular area -- did indicate that, all things being equal, coffee drinkers were less likely to die at any given age. The results of the study, which was conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the AARP, were to be published today in the New England Journal of Medicine and don't show a direct cause-and-effect link between coffee and longer life, only an apparent relation.

Earlier studies hadn't been quite so optimistic for java drinkers, but this one took into account other habits that coffee drinkers tend to have -- smoking, alcohol and red meat consumption and less exercise. Once those variables were filtered out, the pattern emerged that indicated that each cup of coffee consumed improved the chance of living longer.

The study found that a single cup of coffee a day lowered the risk of death by 6 percent in males and 5 percent in women. Women who drank four to five cups a day saw the biggest drop in death risk -- 16 percent.

Coffee drinkers didn't see improvement in their chances of dying from cancer, but they were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents and infections. And it didn't make a significant difference whether the participants drank caffeinated or non-caffeinated java.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health said with the study's size and duration -- it started in 1995 -- it provides the best evidence anyone's likely to get on the effects of coffee on longevity. But he did add a couple of pieces of advice that you might want to consider before feeling vindication when you order, say, a large McCafe Mocha complete with its 400 calories (130 from fat), eight grams of saturated fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol and 49 grams of sugar:

-- Don't load up with sugar and cream because the added calories and fat could very negate any intrinsic benefits the coffee has;

-- Filter your coffee rather than boil it. Filtering, he said, removes compounds that can elevate LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

It's not "Jogging in a Mug" by any means, but it does give coffee lovers reason to feel that maybe it really is the best part of waking up.