The workouts sound like a major time investment, and they are, but they comprise the kind of regimen that research suggests is necessary to stave off the most debilitating conditions of old age.
I already was running long and slow perhaps three or four times a week. The core work was enjoyable, except for the lunges. I hate lunges.
Speedwork is another matter. “Neuromuscular capability and VO2 max [the best measurement of aerobic fitness] are intertwined,” Sapper said. “A lot of [improving] VO2 max is teaching your body to run in that uncomfortable place where you feel like you’re going to throw up.”
My seven weekly speedwork sessions started with four 400-meter runs, or one lap around an outdoor track, at a designated pace and ended with four 800s. In between I did five 1,000s and a “ladder” of various distances at designated paces, among others.
To measure the results of my work, I signed up for a way-too-hilly 6.2-mile run in Boonsboro, Md., and was pleased with the result: 59:27, significantly below the 10:20-per-mile target time the coaches had given me. Even if the course was a little short of 6.2 miles, as I suspect, I still finished in less than 10 minutes per mile on difficult terrain, considerably faster than I had been running only two months earlier.
“We’ve seen tremendous fitness gains from someone just adding speedwork to an endurance base,” Reichmann said.
Levine said that such gains are transferable to the tasks of everyday life. It stands to reason that if I can improve my running speed, housework or dancing also should be easier, he said.
Will this keep me young? It’s hard to say. A recent study by researchers at West Virginia University School of Medicine showed that while baby boomers are living longer than their parents, they are spending more of their lives with chronic illnesses and disabilities, most likely because they are more sedentary and obese than the previous generation.
It may be that exercise compresses that period of chronic illness and postpones the inevitable drop off the “fitness cliff” until we are very old. That seems like a chance worth taking.