MONTREAL - Why do some seniors struggle to get up off the coach, whereas others hit the gym as if they were decades younger?

A husband and wife research team at McGill wondered just that and embarked on a study to try to determine what makes some age better than others.

Their quest has led them to invite 14 elderly athletes to Montreal for a series of tests.

“I recruited, scouted and picked out all of the winners who came in first, second and third in their events and invited them all to Montreal for the week,” explained McGill Exercise Physiologist Tanja Taivassalo.

Taivassalo and her husband Russ Hepple are poking, prodding and examining those outliers to learn why they have been able to endure.

“The main thing I'm interested in is why these individuals are able to retain such phenomenal physical capacity while they age,” said Bio-gerontologist and study co-organizer Russ Hepple.

“As we get older, muscle begins to look like nicely-marbled beef,” said Hepple. “There's more fat infiltration and these athletes are uniform in that they don't have that, their muscle is solid.”

The team is conducting a battery of tests, including muscle biopsies and body scans, to try to understand why some people’s muscles atrophy at a slower pace.

“By looking at how they've successfully aged, I'm hoping we can get some insight into what it will take to tweak things in a favourable way,” said Hepple. “We're hoping to show what is possible.”

One study participant is a 78-year-old runner from Calgary.

“I know I'm older but I don't feel like I'm old and that's what you want to keep, right?” asked Helly Visser.