Declining health in the oldest-old takes an energy toll for the simple maintenance of body functions. The underlying mechanisms, however, differ in males and females. In females, the declines are explained by loss of muscle mass; but this is not the case in males, in whom they are associated with increased levels of circulating creatine kinase. This relationship raises the possibility that muscle damage rather than muscle loss is the cause of the increased energy demands of unhealthy aging in males. We have now examined factors that contribute to the increase in creatine kinase. Much of it (60%) can be explained by a history of cardiac problems and lower kidney function, while being mitigated by moderate physical activity, reinforcing the notion that tissue damage is a likely source. In a search for genetic risk factors associated with elevated creatine kinase, the Ku70 gene XRCC6 and the ceramide synthase gene LASS1 were investigated because of their roles in telomere length and longevity and healthy aging, respectively. Single nucleotide polymorphisms in these two genes were independently associated with creatine kinase levels. The XRCC6 variant was epistatic to one of the LASS1 variants but not to the other. These gene variants have potential regulatory activity. Ku70 is an inhibitor of the proapoptotic Bax, while the product of Lass1, ceramide, operates in both caspase-dependent and -independent pathways of programmed cell death, providing a potential cellular mechanism for the effects of these genes on tissue damage and circulating creatine kinase.