A long and healthy life?

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson

Tortoises are famous for living for a long time. They can often live for two hundred years. I don’t think I want to live that long, but, these days, we are all living longer. This article about long life made me think a lot. Do I want to live to be one hundred? Do you?

How long will a baby born today live? A hundred years? A hundred and twenty years?

Scientists are studying genes that could mean long life for us all. There are already many, many people who live to more than a hundred. In fact, there are now so many healthy elderly people that there's a name for them: the wellderly. These are people over the age of eighty who have no major illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.

There are many scientific studies of communities where a healthy old age is typical. These include places like Calabria in southern Italy and the island of Okinawa in Japan. In Calabria, the small village of Molochio has a population of about 2,000. And of these 2,000 people, there are at least eight people over a hundred years old. Researchers ask people like this the secret of their long life. The answer is almost always about food and is almost always the same: 'I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables'; 'I eat a little bit of everything'; 'I never smoke, I don't drink'.

So, in the past, scientists looked at things such as diet and lifestyle for an explanation of long life. But these days they are also looking at genetic factors. Researcher Eric Topol says that there are probably genes that protect people from the effects of the ageing process. The new research into long life investigates groups of people who have a genetic connection. One interesting group lives in Ecuador. In one area of the country there are a number of people with the same genetic condition. It's called Laron syndrome. These people don't grow very tall – just over one metre. But Laron syndrome also gives them protection against cancer and diabetes. As a result, they live longer than other people in their families. On the other side of the world, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, there's another group of long-lived men. They are Japanese-Americans but they have a similar gene to the Laron syndrome group.

In Calabria, researchers constructed the family trees of the 100-year-old people. They looked at family information from the 19th century to today. They think that there are genetic factors that give health benefits to the men. This is interesting because generally, in Europe, women live longer than men.

So what really makes people live longer? Probably, it's a combination of genes, the environment and one more thing – luck.


diabetes (n) a medical condition which affects the amount of sugar in a person's blood
diet (n) the food an animal or person usually eats
disease (n) a serious problem that affects someone's body and health
elderly (adj) quite old, or very old
factor (n) a cause of something or an influence on a result
healthy (adj) strong and not ill
high blood pressure (n) an illness that affects the way your blood moves around your body
illness (n) a problem with your health
lifestyle (n) the way that a person lives and the activities they do
research (n) the careful study of something in order to learn facts about it

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1 What do scientists investigate to try to understand long life?
people's lifestyles and where they live
genetic factors and environmental factors
people’s diet and what kind of activities they do

2 What do diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure have in common?
They are common illnesses in old age.
Scientists can learn a lot about age when they study these illnesses.
People in Ecuador don’t suffer from these illnesses.

3 What do some people from Ecuador and Okinawa have in common?
They have diabetes.
They have a genetic syndrome.
They live long, healthy lives.

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

4 According to the article ...
scientists are investigating people who are 120 years old.
scientific advances mean we will all live to at least 100 years.
scientists have found genes that might influence how long we live.

5 The 'wellderly' are ...
over 100 years old.
over 80 years old.
elderly people with health problems.

6 According to the article ...
some places have an unusual number of very old people.
Italy and Japan are very healthy places to live.
people who live in small villages live longer.

7 The typical reason people give for their long life is:
a secret.
there are many different reasons.

8 Laron syndrome ...
is a problem for people with diabetes.
is only found in Ecuador and Hawaii.
is the result of a genetic condition.

9 Laron syndrome shows scientists that ...
some people don't grow tall.
there is a genetic reason for old age.
some conditions only affect men.

10 Scientists think that ... a healthy old age.
different factors lead to
more European men than women live to
in the past, more people lived to

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