Do you know what a healthy body fat percentage is for your age, height and gender? Your body fat percentage is a value that tells you how much of your body weight is made up of fat. It is a very important number to know and you should know yours!
In terms of your overall health, your body fat percentage can be one of the most useful numbers available to you, even more so than your weight measured on a scale and much more so than your Body Mass Index (BMI). If you have an interest in living a healthy lifestyle, try your best to eat a healthy diet and work to keep your body weight under control, your body fat percentage is a crucial piece of data to understand.
Get the Context of Your Weight:
Knowing your weight tells you very little. Different people can have the same body weight but have completely different compositions, body types, and health risks. Your body fat percentage will put your weight into context, telling you far more about your yourself then how heavy you are.
Here are the body compositions of three types of people. All are around the same weight (154 pounds) and height (5’10”).
Bill has a body weight of 154.0 pounds and a body fat percentage of 28.3%. Notice the large differences between the bar for Body Fat Mass and SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass). Because of this very large difference and despite being a normal weight, Bill likely falls into the category of what is popularly called “skinny fat.”
Ted has a nearly identical weight to Bill – less than half a pound in difference – but has a body fat percentage of 15.6%, almost 13% less than Bill! This is because, unlike Bill, Ted has average amounts of muscle and fat for a 5’10” person.
Brian is within a pound of both Bill & Ted with a body weight of 154.8 and a body fat percentage of 10.1%. The bars for his SMM and Body Fat Mass are the complete inverse of Bill, who had a skinny fat composition.
Now it’s true that even without these charts, it would be quite obvious to tell skinny fat Bill from athletic Brian just by looking at them. However, the more extreme examples of Bill and Brian are helpful to illustrate how three individuals with roughly the same scale weight and BMI can have wildly different body compositions– something that scale weight cannot reveal.
Of the three individuals, Bill stands to be the most at risk for health problems because of his high body fat percentage and low muscle mass, but because his weight and BMI are considered normal, it may never have occurred to Bill to keep an eye on his health.
Without the data body fat percentage provide, it’s very difficult to understand what exactly where your body weight falls. If you have goals that you are trying to achieve, it is important to put your body fat percentage into context to begin laying out a plan to achieve your goals.
Decide How To Start Improving:
Knowing your body fat percentage helps you decide which of these two goals – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should focus on.
It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” body fat percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.
–For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
–For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy
These ranges may vary depending on the source. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Mayo Clinic have ranges listed on their websites that you can take a look at.
For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.
While strength training is incredibly healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on ‘bulking up’ (building large amounts of muscle mass) may not be the best approach right off the bar for improving the body composition of someone who is significantly overweight. A diet that encourages muscle growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).
While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.
For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.
Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on building muscle, not losing fat.
The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle. While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat they carry.
Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease:
Knowing your body fat percentage is also very relevant for purposes not just fitness related. Keeping your body fat percentage at a healthy level can help reduce your likelihood of getting serious health risks, specifically, heart disease.
Heart disease is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This occurs when small pieces of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) damage your arteries, causing them to harden, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.
What does body fat have to do with your heart? Quite a lot, actually.
According to new research published by the Mayo Clinic, having a healthy body fat percentage has a significant effect on your cholesterol levels – increasing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) which helps to remove the damaging LDL and lower overall total cholesterol. This means less artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream, which means less stress on your heart.
To be clear: this research isn’t linking this to overall weight or even total pounds of fat. These positive effects are linked with the amount of body fat you have compared to your current weight. The body fat percentage ranges needed to have this positive effect have an upper limit of 20% for men and 30% for women.
While the research doesn’t suggest that this is any type of complete preventative for heart disease – many lifestyle factors, as well as genetics, play into whether you will develop it or not – it does suggest that you have some degree of control over preventing it by maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
Know Your Percentage and Take Control of Your Health!
Perhaps one of the best things about your body fat percentage is that it compares you to yourself.
If you just track weight, this invariably leads to comparing yourself to someone else. Even though there could be significant differences in height, muscle mass, genetics, or other factors, all people hear when they talk about or think about their weight is the number.
To take control of your health and fitness and gain the positive benefits of living a healthy lifestyle, the first step is to get your body composition measured. Using our InBody machine, we can help you track your body fat percentage and make any necessary lifestyle adjustments.
Email us at email@example.com or call us at 587-983-6019 to schedule your InBody scan!
Live beyond your limits
Source: RYAN WALTERS, InBody.