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Secrets of longevity may lie in long-lived smokers, a ‘biologically distinct’ group with extraordinary gene variants.

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Scientists are looking at the genes of long lived smokers for clues about longevity.

Smoking is known to be one of the worst things you can do to your body, with drastic consequences on life span and the progression of disease. On average, smokers' life expectancy is 10 years less than non-smokers. The long-lived smokers are the exception and the researchers said that their findings suggest that they may be a "biologically distinct group" that is endowed with genetic variants that allow them to respond differently to exposure.

"There is evidence that these genes may facilitate lifespan extension by increasing cellular maintenance and repair," Levine said.

The study, which was published Wednesday in the Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences, involved participants of the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study in the United States. The researchers compared 90 participants who were smokers and lived to past 80, with 730 people who were smokers and lived to less than 70 years of age.

They found that those in the age 80-plus group had similar physiological function as measured by inflammation, blood pressure and immune function as non-smokers in their age group. Smokers who died at a younger age had had worse physiological function than non-smoking counterparts at the time they were measured.

Levine told The Washington Post that the work is important because "the more we know about why we age, the more equipped we will be to intervene."

"Aging is an extremely complex process, and I think we are only beginning to uncover some of the mechanisms that regulate it. However, it also happens to be the biggest risk factor for most of the diseases that people suffer and die from," she said.

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