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Is Your Workout Too Wimpy?

3 ways to tell you if your exercise intensity is too low, too high, or just right.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

No matter how hard you exercise, you can always find people who are exercising harder. As they speed past you on foot or bicycle, and lift seemingly superhuman amounts of weight at the gym, it's only natural to wonder: Am I taking it too easy?

"It all depends on your goals," say exercise physiologists James Hagberg, PhD of the University of Maryland, and Philip Clifford, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

If your goal is to improve your health, you probably don't need to exercise as hard as people who are trying to lose a large amount of fat, gain a large amount of muscle, or train for competitive sports. That's especially true if you're older and haven't exercised in a long time.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

What Is Your Goal?

"Depending on what your goals are, there are no workouts that are too wimpy," Hagberg tells WebMD. "If we can get a [sedentary] 65-year-old out doing a slow walk for 30 minutes three times a week, it's a great step forward."

"For health, the message we'd like to get across is that it's important to keep moving, and do some exercise five to six days a week," Clifford says. "If your goal is weight loss, you probably don't need to worry so much about intensity as about increasing the duration of time that you're exercising."

To prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults aged 18-64 exercise at moderate intensity for least 2.5 hours per week; or at vigorous intensity for at least 1.25 hours per week. To lose weight, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends up to an hour a day of physical activity.

But once you're in shape, you may need to keep challenging yourself. Here are three ways to tell what's too easy or too hard.

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