Hitting the gym may make you feel like an athletic superstar, but unfortunately it's pretty likely that you're not going hard enough for good health. A new study from researchers at Canada's York University shows that, even when they're provided with guidelines regarding "moderate" and "vigorous" exercise, adults overestimate exercise difficulty. This is obviously a bad tendency, because merely "light" exercise can't provide all of the health benefits of more intense exercise.
There are a few caveats regarding research methods: the experimental participants were described as "sedentary," not a cross-section of the population at large, so perhaps everyone else does OK at discerning what counts as a moderate or intense workout. However, this may be no coincidence — at least on the margin, you'd expect that people with a better understanding of intense exercise and its important role in good health would be less likely to remain sedentary in the first place. Also the participants had a median age of only 20 years, so it remains unclear whether older adults suffer from the same miscalculations.
In any case, though, this is pretty bad news, especially when considered in combination with the most recent American Time Use Survey results regarding exercise. On any given day, only 21 percent of American men and 16 percent of American women exercised (1.9 and 1.3 hours, respectively). On a pie chart of total time per day, exercise represents only a tiny slice. No wonder everyone's chubby, weak, and sad.
If you are in the minority of people who gets regular exercise, it's great that you're working out at all, but you may very well need to do it harder. Check out the Mayo Clinic's helpful guidelines to exercise intensity to be sure you're not falling prey to gym overestimation syndrome. Though you can use both objective measures of intensity (e.g. heart rate) and subjective measures (i.e. how you feel during the exercise) to gauge exercise intensity, you may want to try a heart monitor for a while because there's less of a fudge factor available and you'll be less likely to err on the side of laziness.