George Burns, who is 99 years old, fell in the bath tub this year and has slowed down. But he continues to enjoy life, to be involved in the comedy profession he loves, and he looks forward to celebrating his 100th birthday next year.

If he makes it, he will not be alone.It is likely that celebrated centenarian Jeanne Calment, who commemorated birthday number 120 last month in Arles, France, will still be around. When asked what kind of a future she expected, she said, "a short one." She used to eat more than 2 pounds of chocolate a week and lives in a region where olive oil is a major component of the diet. Her father died at 93 and her mother at 86.

Although most centenarians, like Calment, never dreamed they would live to be 100 years old, this interesting group of older citizens is on the increase in the United States. According to the Bureau of the Census, there are 49,000 Americans who are 100 years or older. If current trends continue, there will be 75,000 centenarians in the United States by the year 2000 - and 1,208,000 by 2050.

For reasons not completely understood, very old women outnumber very old men four to one, but whether men or women, a surprising number are exceptionally healthy and mentally intact. These are the hardy survivors who have unaccountably exceeded the life expectancy for women of 79.6 and for men of 72.9.

People who have studied centenarians find them to be a remarkably diverse group, often having little more in common than their venerable age. It appears that they do share a resilient inner strength and a temperament inclined not to overreact to unpleasant experiences.

Some have always been very conscious of their health, but most seem to live life as it comes and to eat what they want, without fear of adverse consequences. Some have endured and overcome the effect of serious, life-threatening diseases, but many have never suffered anything beyond expected childhood illnesses and have never seen the inside of a hospital. Some are the only ones in their families to live to be old, but many symbolize a familiar pattern of family longevity.

Whatever their secrets of longevity, they are inspiring people who have prevailed and lived life to the hilt. A look at aging on this level tends to diminish one's fear of growing old.

According to information compiled by the Utah State Division of Aging, there are at least 98 people over 100 living in Utah, and we found three not on the list. Similar to nationwide statistics, 76 of them are women. Twenty-eight centenarians live in Salt Lake City, while the others are dotted all over the state.

James Coffey, 100, of Magna has no idea why he has lived to be so old - except that many others in his family have lived to be in their 80s. He recalls a ruptured appendix, pneumonia and continuing high blood pressure as his only serious health problems.

After moving from Colorado to Utah, he worked as an electrician in a smelter. He enjoyed playing baseball and being "active outside. I was a golfer. I was not what you would call a house person. But I had to quit golfing at 88, when my eyesight started to fail. I can see only a little bit now. I can see YOU but not very good."

He has never been an avid meat eater, and exercise has been a more recent development in his life. He has logged 1,291 miles on an exercise bike at his son's home, "enough to make it over to Denver and back." His advice to those who aspire to live a long time is to "keep busy. You'll have ups and downs, and if you have a down, just pass it over and do the best you can. That's the way I do it."

Coffey has always been a reader, having devoured all of Charles Dickens' works "and a lot of French writers." He retired at 68 but remained active. "I used to drink a little bit, and I smoked quite a bit. I still take a beer once in awhile."

But he quit smoking in 1937 when he began work in the smelter. It just seemed there was already so much smoke in the smelter that he could not justify exposing himself to smoke when it wasn't necessary.

Rozella Collard, 102, who was brought up in Fountain Green, lives with her daughter on Salt Lake's east side. She says she considers herself very fortunate, because "I can eat everything. There are some things I don't like - like dill pickles and mustard. I don't like hot foods. I like garden foods and fresh foods. I've just eaten the things I felt like eating."

She has always loved desserts and enjoys anything salty - especially nuts and crackers. She has never worried about cholesterol and has never been in the hospital in her life.

Collard has observed the LDS Word of Wisdom all her life. Today, she can't walk, her vision is dim, her hearing impaired and her hands numb.

"The hardest thing I have to do is stand up. I can hear you if you don't talk too low. I have had leg problems all my life. I just have poor legs. I used to really like to read, but I can't do it any more. It's maddening."

But Collard, who looks much younger than her 102 years, has had a happy life. She remembers meeting her husband when she was only in the first grade. "When I told my parents I had met a cute boy, they asked his name, and I said, `George Collard.' They said, `George Collard? That fat, freckle-faced kid? I don't think HE's cute.' He turned out to be my husband, and we had a good life together."

Collard considers herself an optimistic person who is slow to anger. "I'm still happy, and I still try to do the best I can - but 102 is a bit too long to live."

A.H. "Tone" Neuberger, 100, lives in Logan with his "almost 90-year-old wife." They get along on their own. There is no hesitation when he is asked how he feels.

"I feel like hell. I'd rather be young. I can't play golf any more, and that's sad. That's all over with, and that's what I liked to do most. Now, I'm just waiting to die. I walk around the yard a couple of times a day. I can still do that. I don't have any pains, but I've sure slowed up - I'll tell you that. My movements are few and far between."

Neuberger, proprietor of a clothing and shoe store in Logan for many years, retired in his late 70s. He has never worried about cholesterol, feels free to eat anything he wants and advises others who want to live long to "get plenty of exercise and keep working."

Lillian Chisholm, 102, who considers herself "extra lucky," has lived in the Fay Case Nursing Home in Salt Lake City for about a year and doesn't mind it. She predicts she'll die there, but that isn't because she feels like dying.

"I feel pretty good. I have my eyesight, my hearing and everything. But I'm not good in the mornings. I don't know why, but I'm no good until I've had my lunch. After that, I'm pretty good, as a rule. I just eat what I want. I never tried to avoid cholesterol."

She has to eat at 7 a.m. in the nursing home, and she considers that "very early."

Chisholm, who looks alert and enthusiastic, knits a lot - because she "has a lot of yarn to get rid of," and it tends to soften the effect of the arthritis in her right hand. One of her fingers is sore, "but it doesn't stop me from knitting, because I'm afraid it would get worse."

She is especially "grateful that I have my eyesight and can do things. I can read and watch TV. I like to read very much. I think reading helps keep your mind active."

Chisholm doesn't need glasses to read, either - except for very small print - but she does use a walker to get around.

Several years ago she broke each of her legs on different occasions but has remained healthy otherwise. Although never one to exercise, she considers herself a walker, who "always had a crowd" who enjoyed walking together.

"I used to walk from 400 North down to 400 South to work every day at the Randall-Dodd Automobile Co. I worked for Martin Cafe, too, just below 300 South. I've walked a lot."

She also used to go swimming and hiking on a regular basis.

Chisholm has always gotten along well with people and enjoys looking on "the bright side of things. I'm not an excessive worrier. You can't have everything, but they're pretty good to me here. I could be critical of people, but what's the use? I've been having a lot of trouble with heartburn lately. I don't know why - but they always give me things to help it. Heartburn isn't very pleasant."

Ed Slack of Toquerville, Washington County, celebrated his 100th birthday on Feb. 11. "After you turn 100, you can't finish a sentence, you know. I'm in very good shape. I'm a little forgetful, but I have a good remembrance of my early boyhood days. When I was very young, my father had a trotting horse. The first time I saw an automobile, we were out in the buggy and my father said he had heard that automobiles were supposed to overrun horses. So he said, `We'll see.' And he raced the car and easily passed it, just leaving it in the dust."

Slack, whose family is noted for longevity, still eats well and sleeps well and is "well-pleased" with his health. He worked as a civil engineer, a profession that forced him to do a lot of walking with farmers to survey their land, but his eating habits would not impress the medical community.

"I eat bacon and eggs four times a week, and I haven't died. I don't like vegetables. They wasn't made for me at all. I eat beans and cauliflower sometimes, but I don't yearn for them. My favorite food is bacon and eggs."

Slack hastens to add that he has lived "quite clean - I don't smoke or drink" - and he has worked hard for most of his life, even if he has been "kinda rough and tumble."

The main problem he has now is people who don't believe he is 100.

"One guy asked me for my birth certificate, and I don't have it. I don't know if they even made them in those days. I get pinched on the cheek by all the women, because I don't have any wrinkles. I tell them the secret is Oil of Olay. I'm the biggest liar in the world. I even posed as one of the Three Nephites. It's just one of my little jokes. People ask me about my age so much I have to think of some answers. So I told one woman I would tell her who I am if she wouldn't tell anybody. I whispered in her ear that I was one of the Three Nephites. When I got home, my phone was RINGING."

Slack is surprised that he is 100.

"I didn't have any reason to think I'd live this long. I ride the bicycle and do a little bit of calisthenics every day, but I can't account for it. I do believe in moderation in all things. I don't eat too much. I don't go back for seconds. I eat bread and milk now for my supper, and I sleep like a baby."

Although Slack has lived in Denver, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, he was born in Toquerville, and he suspects he'll die there. He lives alone in his house, but his daughter comes every morning and fixes his breakfast and does his laundry.

"I'll probably die in 1995, but I don't FEEL that way. I'm not afraid to die. I'm tired and willing to accept it."

Gorgonia Maria Archuleta Alire, 102, lives in the family home in Midvale. Born in El Rito, N.M., she married Viterbo Alire, a man 30 years older than she, in an "arranged marriage." Together, they had 17 children, two of whom were adopted. Today, she has 70 grandchildren, 180 great-grandchildren, 191 great-great-grandchildren and 9 great-great-great-grandchildren.

In New Mexico, the "days of cowboys and Indians," the Alires farmed 150 acres of land, raised animals, milled flour to sell and supplied vegetables and poultry to the local school. They used to drive a horse and buggy or walk everywhere.

She remembers that a local hermit predicted the day when "machines would fly like birds in the air" and there would be highways, cars, hospitals and modern schools.

Her husband died in 1949, and in 1962 she moved to Utah - in her 60s - where she has lived in Murray and Midvale. Although she has trouble seeing and suffers from arthritis, she still loves gardening and is positive about her life.

Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, she says, "Being happy and working hard all my life has helped me to live longer. It is important to be active and do work in the home."

Alire still eats normal foods - two eggs, bacon, toast and coffee every morning - and she loves chili for lunch. The family got her a walker and a cane, but she refuses to use them.

Ila Childs, who turns 100 on March 18, lives on her own in a retirement center in Salt Lake City. Except for difficulty hearing and arthritis in the hands, she is in good health and looks terrific.

"For a long time now people have been saying to me, `You'll live to be 100' - and I say, `I hope not.' But I guess I will."

Childs has had good health all her life, with no health problems except childhood illnesses. "I was in the hospital for a little while two years ago when I broke my leg."

She eats well and doesn't worry about what she eats.

"I don't think about cholesterol. I just eat what I want. I had a physical examination years ago - when I was about 75 - and the doctor said I had high cholesterol, and he gave me a list of things to eat and not to eat. I considered that for a little while, but that hindered me. I said if I get a heart attack and go off, why that's all right. So I didn't pay much attention to it."

Her advice to others is to "just live a normal life with no excesses."

She taught high school history and English for nine years in Idaho, "and some of the students have followed me and still call me teacher. I'm quite proud of the fact that they feel well enough of me that they would do that."

Childs' husband, who died 24 years ago, had six daughters when they got married. Then they had two sons together. "Today, I have eight children, 23 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren, and 20 great-great-grandchildren and two great-great-great-grandchildren."

Childs' family plans a party to commemorate her centennial milestone next week, but she is essentially unconcerned. "I don't care if they have a celebration or not. I've had a good life - not exciting - but it's been good."

While representing diverse backgrounds and interests, these Utah centenarians have all had full, satisfying lives - which are not over yet. While suffering from a variety of physical ills, they are much better off than most of us would predict for such an advanced age.

Moreover, they are all mentally alert.

They should inspire us to see the possibilities in our own future for the mind, the spirit and the body. And although none of them ever planned on an extended life, their amazing experience demonstrates that none of us is exempt from the outside chance that we will live to be 100.

So we'd be better be ready - just in case.