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Study Hall: Could caffeine and exercise help prevent skin cancer?

For Study Hall each week, we sort through the deluge of new medical studies and wordy white papers to bring you one that deserves your attention—in plain, healthy English.

Your morning jog and cup of joe may be doing more than making your heart beat faster.

According to a study presented last week at an American Association for Cancer Research conference, mice who exercised and consumed caffeine had a lower risk of skin cancer. (No, the mice did not use sunscreen.)

The study: Researchers from the Rutgers Ernesto Mario School of Pharmacy previously found that either caffeine or exercise reduced skin cancer in mice. For this study, they wanted to see if exercise and caffeine combined had the same effect. First, they exposed the mice to UVB rays to summon skin cancer (think tanning bed).  Then, for 14 weeks the mice were on one of four daily regimens: drinking water (the control group); consuming caffeine; running on a wheel; or doing both.

The results: Mice who took in caffeine and exercised had 62% less skin cancer tumors than the control group. (The exercisers had 35% less, and the just-caffeine group had 27% less.) And, the mice that did get skin cancer in the caffeine-and-exercise group had 85% smaller tumors than the control group.

What it means: Right now, it means that city mice should sip from discarded lattes and run around a bit if they’re planning on spending time on sunny New York streets (and not under them). But, it points towards interesting factors—other than using sunscreen and taking shade—that may help protect against skin cancer. And if the results are replicated in humans, you’ll have another excuse to not break your Starbucks habit. —Allison Becker