How can some of the world's oldest people be so unhealthy?

If you are drawn to a buffet table with a flashing "all you can eat" sign over it, and if the most strenuous activity you partake in is watching television while pressing the clicker, then you may want to listen up. You smokers can hang around. In fact, there's some reason for optimism for you. How? It looks as if the key to living a longer life isn't found in swearing off booze, quitting cigarettes, not using drugs and other pleasures of the flesh. (However, dodging bullets resulting in gunshot wounds to vital organs, as well as head-on impacts with 18-wheelers are still good rules of thumb.)
There have been situations in which the world's oldest people-and we're referring to folks over 100 years old-have also lived very unhealthy lives. Centenarians (people who live 100 years or more) like Madame Jeanne Calment, who was a cigarette smoker until she was 100 and later died in 1997 at age 122, aren't supposed to survive as long and in good health, as Calment did. We expect them to live like fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who himself is alive and in good health at age 94.
LaLanne's longevity is obvious; he drinks fresh juice every day and reveres the temple of fitness. But a 100-year-old who smokes and is still kicking-healthy and happy, even-contradicts science. Why aren't people like Calment filled with cancer or destroyed by heart disease? Why aren't they connected to all manner of life-support devices and kept alive by the efforts of their physicians?
When biologists research the process of aging, they keep coming across a pesky question that simply won't go away: How do such hard-living folks seem to live such long lives? Is diet, genetics, or fortune at work here?
Those questions led some scientists to examine this unexplainable longevity. The race toward unraveling the key to this long lifetime still continues. At this point, scientists have determined that somewhere within our genetic code, it looks as if some of us have a mutation that slows down cellular death. It's also within the realm of possibility that if scientists can identify the specific gene or genes accountable for longevity, the rest of us can benefit through gene therapy.

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