What Does Your Body Composition Mean ᐅ Healthy Body Fat Percentage

As a society we’ve unfortunately been conditioned to focus on the number on the scale as an indicator of how physically healthy or fit we are. No matter whether the scale is your best friend or worst enemy, there are actually better ways to find out what is going on in your body – one of them is learning about body composition.

 Body composition…

…is the measure of fat mass to lean tissue in the body. This indicator can tell you about your physical health and your fitness level

A young woman is doing a workout

Strong Muscles = Lower Risk of Injury

We know that having lean muscle tissue has heaps of benefits: getting stronger, reducing risk of injury, supporting a healthy lifestyle for the future (when you’re older!) as muscle generally tends to deteriorate. The National Institute of Health concluded in a study that muscle strength declines from people aged <40 years to those >40 years between 16.6% and 40.9%. The risk of falling and breaking bones increases as a result of reduced muscle strength and bone loss over the age of 40. A sedentary lifestyle accelerates this process. The body fat percentage also rises due to a redistribution of stored body fat, which heightens the risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. 

Have an Expert Test Your Body Fat Percentage

(1) Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA)

Bioelectrical impedance (BIA) is one of the most precise and reliable methods to determine body composition. This method measures the opposition to the flow of electrical current through body tissue. A weak electrical field is created through two electrodes on a hand and foot. Don’t worry – it doesn’t hurt! BIA is the preferred measurement method in medicine and sports medicine because it is so fast and easy to do. If you want to find out whether your body fat percentage is healthy, ask a dietician.

The following parameters can be determined with BIA:

  • Body fat
  • Lean body mass
  • Total body water
  • Muscle mass

Bioelectrical impedance machine for testing body fat

(2) Hydrostatic weighing

Hydrostatic weighing makes its calculation based on water displacement. Weight is compared outside of water and in water to calculate density and thus the body composition. If you’re interested in this method, you’ll need to find a location in your area that provides this method usually a medical facility.

Hydrostatic weighing makes its calculation based on water displacement.

How to Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage at Home

There are also ways to calculate your body fat percentage at home. These are, however, not as accurate as the methods above. They can give you a general idea of where you stand.

(1) Skin calipers

This is done by pinching 3 different skin folds in the body — the measurements of your body fat percentage can be read directly on the tool. It’s the easiest to do at home with a friend or with your trainer. However, this method isn’t generally efficient for obese people and can have a large margin of error if being done by different professionals. If you are using this method, be sure to have the same person do it for you to ensure a more accurate comparison. It’s not the most precise of all the methods, but doesn’t take much time at all. The advantage is that it’s a quick way to measure. 

Measuring body fat with a caliper

(2) US Navy Method

If you want to calculate your body fat percentage using the US Navy Method, all you need is a measuring tape to measure different parts of your body. The points at which you measure are different for men and women. 

If you want to calculate your body fat percentage using the US Navy Method, all you need is a measuring tape to measure different parts of your body.

How to measure correctly:

  • Waist circumference: wrap the measuring tape around your waist at the height of your navel. Measure when you are relaxed after exhaling.
  • Neck circumference: measure your neck just below the Adam’s apple. 
  • Hip circumference (only for women): measure at the widest part of your hips.

Use this calculator to calculate your body fat percentage:

So You Measured Your Body Fat Percentage — Is it Within the Healthy Range?

Normal and borderline ranges

The table below can help you find out what range you are in:(1)

Body Fat Percentage Ranges & Rating for Men

Table: Body Fat Percentage Ranges & Rating for Men (low, healthy, overweight, obese)

Body Fat Percentage Ranges & Rating for Women

Table: Body Fat Percentage Ranges & Rating for Women (low, healthy, overweight, obese)

Important:

A low body fat percentage is not necessarily healthy. It can also be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, alcohol, drugs…).

Why are the ranges different for men and women?

Women have an average of 5% more body fat than men. The body needs fat to keep the hormone level balanced. Body fat (within the healthy range) is crucial for supporting reproductive organs and allowing women to have a regular and healthy menstrual cycle — a fertility indicator.

In a Nutshell: Aim for the Healthy Middle

Body fat is essential for our health. It provides energy, protects and insulates our organs, and regulates the production of hormones. Too much body fat is associated with higher cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which can lead to cardiovascular problems and strokes. The risk of Type 2 diabetes is also higher. However, if your body fat is too low, you lack energy, are more likely to get sick, and get cold faster. You may suffer from digestive problems, and low body fat can have a negative impact on your bone density and hormone level. The healthiest route is to aim for the middle of the range.

Two young women doing a workout and stretching

Is Your Body Fat Too High or Too Low and you Want to Change That?

We have several tips to help you get into the healthy range: 

So now you know that the weight on the scale isn’t the only important body metric to keep track of. Do you know your body fat percentage, or are you now eager to find out? Let us know in the comments below.

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Julia Denner Dietitian Julia is a creative cook. She is convinced that a varied diet and regular exercise are the keys to success. View all posts by Julia Denner »

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