What Does Your Percent Body Fat Mean?


You have been exercising for a while now, you go to the gym or you run or you go for long walks. Whatever it is, it does not seem to be working for you because every time you get on your bathroom scale you see the same number staring back at you. Although the bathroom scale is a great way to check your weight, it is not the only answer to measuring your fitness level because it does not take into account your body’s composition. This is what your body is made up of, how much fat you have relative to lean tissue. By figuring out your body fat percentage you can get a better look at how your body is composed and how “healthy” you are.

Depending on your genetic make up and how active you are the level of your body fat percentage will vary. Your body fat percentage is a measurement of the amount of your total body mass that is adipose tissue (a.k.a. fat), as opposed to lean body mass (muscle, bones, organs, tissues, blood, and anything else). So, for example, if you weigh 200 pounds and you have 10% body fat, this means that your body contains 20 pounds of fat and 180 pounds of lean body mass. A body fat percentage index is often used as a way to monitor someone’s progress during a diet they are trying or as a measurement of physical fitness for certain sports; an example being body building. A measurement of ones body fat percentage is a more accurate measure of your excess body weight than your BMI, or body mass index, measurement would be because this does not take into account ones body frame size, nor does it account for the amount of muscle mass a person has. However, body fat percentage is not as popular as BMI’s because the skills and technology needed to measure body fat percentage are not readily available.

It is important be aware of the fact that your body requires a certain amount of fat to function properly. Fat is essential to the body as it helps to regulate temperature, provides insulation and cushioning for organs/tissues, and it is the body’s main form of storage. There are some general body fat percentage categories that will help give you an idea of the different levels of body fat:

For women, they are considered obese if their body fat percentage is 32% or above, for men this number is 25%. Acceptable levels of body fat include 25-31% for women and 18-25% for men; while athlete’s body fat percentages usually range between 14-20% for women and 6-13% for men. Finally, the essential amount of fat a woman needs to perform basic functions is anywhere from 10-12% and for men is 2-4%. Anyone with levels below this are looking at some serious health risks.

What is considered a healthy body fat percentage also varies with age. Healthy body fat percentages for men and women aged 20-39 are levels between 21-32% for women and 8-19% for men; while those who are aged 40-59 will remain healthy by maintaining levels 23-33% for women and 11-21% for men; finally 60 + will be fine with levels of 24-35% for women and 13-24% for men.

As you have probably noticed from all the numbers above, women require a higher body fat percentage than men do and this extra amount of fat is natural for them as well. Also you probably noticed that with how active a person you are usually your fat percentage is lower and also that as you age increases your fat % will increase naturally along with you. Whatever your weight is the greater of a body fat percentage that you have the more at risk you are for certain diseases. Specifically obesity related illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Now that you have the goods on body fat percentage you are probably wondering well that is great but how can I find out what my body fat percentage is? This is easier said than done. It is not something that you can really measure yourself. There are a number of different ways to get this figured out and each is at varying levels of technology and with varying levels of accuracy. The classic type of way to measure is by the use of callipers. I am sorry I only have time to list these measuring devices. You will have to research them on your own time. The other ways are by: underwater weighing, Bod Pod machines, Dual X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) Scan, and Bioelectrical Impedance. I have personally tried callipers, a DEXA scan, and bioelectrical impedance. From both my experiences and what I know the DEXA scan was the most accurate and also would be the most expensive, I lucked out and got to try it when I was working in a Kinesiology lab one summer during University.

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