Knowing your "body fat percentage" is a great way to monitor or measure your health.
Before beginning an exercise program it’s always good to measure details of your body, like body fat percentage, so you can gauge your progression through your fitness program.
There are a variety of methods you can use for measuring your body fat percentage.
For most women we only want to know that we’re in the healthy body fat range or not.
Some body fat testing methods can be more accurate than others, and in this article we’ll discuss the difference between body weight and body fat and the different ways to measure body fat
What is body fat?
The body is made up of many different types of tissue.
There is your fat-free mass which includes the muscle, water and bone, and fat mass which can be separated into two types essential and storage.
Essential fat is the fat our body needs for healthy functioning, and is stored in the bones, organs, muscles and central nervous system.
Storage fat accumulates not only beneath the skin, but also around the internal organs.
Typically females require a higher percentage of body fat compared with males as their biological functions rely on adequate fat stores.
How do I measure body fat?
There are a number of ways to measure body fat including skin fold calipers, hydrostatic measuring, Biometrical impedance, and DEXA scans.
Each of these methods has pros and cons to them according to accessibility and cost.
Whichever method you use each one still requires you to know your height and weight in order to get an accurate measurement, as each is based on a formula relating to weight, height and sex.
Using one of these methods regularly and consistently is the key to keeping track with fat loss, regardless of the method used.
Whilst some methods of assessing body fat are more accurate than others, if you only have access to one method it is definitely helpful as another form of accountability and motivation to keep you on track towards your goals.
Healthy body fat percentage for women?
For women who exercise regularly and in good overall health condition a healthy body fat range will depend on age.
A healthy range for women 30 to 39 would be between 20 to 24 percent.
Women in their 40’s would be considered healthy with a body fat of 23 to 27 percent. For ladies 50 and older a body fat of 27 to 31 percent is considered healthy.
While there are many health risks associated with having a high body fat, there are also health risks associated with having an extremely low body fat.
As indicated above essential body fat for women is around 12% less than that and amenorrhea is likely, as well as the risk of osteoporosis and nutrient deficiencies.
Body Fat percentage calculator?
There are many ways to measure body fat, and the gold standard for the longest time was the "hydrostatic weighing", however due to the equipment needed for this test and the lack of availability, body fat calipers soon became the norm in the fitness industry.
These two methods have long been the industry standards set for personal trainers.
Body fat caliper?
Body fat calipers are one of the more common methods of measuring body fat.
The calipers themselves are readily available to purchase and are commonly used by personal trainers as a great alternative to hydrostatic measuring.
This method involves using a skin fold caliper that pinches the skin and gives a measurement for each of the specified locations.
By using these calipers we can then use a chart to work out the body fat percentage.
Do body fat calipers work?
Calipers can work extremely well, if used correctly.
This method of measuring body fat should be done by a trained individual and it’s not something you can do on yourself.
The skin folds are measured on the theory that half of the fat in the body is under the skin and so by assessing that body fat we can estimate the total body fat percentage.
How to calculate body fat using a body fat caliper?
There are a couple of methods of measuring body fat with a caliper, ranging from one to seven sites on the body.
The most commonly used method is the Durnin Womersley Formula using four locations at:
• Iliac crest
Things to remember would be to take the measurements in the same location, on the same side of the body, and ideally the same person would take the measurements.
It is also advised to take the same measurement two or three times to get an average result of each location.
Once you have your four measurements you total the amount and compare the figure with your sex and age on the Durnin-Womersley chart to get your body fat percentage.
What is biometrical impedance?
Biometrical impedance is the use of handheld device or scale to measure body fat.
These devices use a small electrical current that passes through the body, using the hypothesis that fat would provide more resistance to the current due to it having less water content in comparison to muscle.
Whilst this all sounds great, these devices are not very accurate as they rely on hydration of the individual to be consistent with each measuring.
Again though is this is the only method available and it is used correctly biometrical impedance can at least provide an estimate of the percentage body fat.
What is hydrostatic body fat weighing?
For many years this has been the gold standard of body fat percentage testing that calipers and biometrical impedance have been compared to, with only a 1.5% margin of error.
In hydrostatic weighing a person gets submerged in a tank of water, so it is not for those with aquaphobia.
How does it work?
A person submerges themselves completely in the water tank, and due to the fact that fat-free mass is denser than fat mass when submerged in water a person with higher percentage of fat-free mass will weigh more in the water.
Downsides to the hydrostatic method?
As already mentioned if you have a fear of water this is not going to be a nice experience.
Also when submerged the person has to exhale all the air in the lungs, not breathing for a few seconds to get a completely accurate result.
What is a DEXA scan?
Once the hydrostatic weighing was considered the most accurate measurement of body fat but the Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or DEXA scan is fast replacing the hydrostatic method as the gold standard.
Compared to hydrostatic measuring which only measures fat-free mass and fat mass, the DEXA scan divides the body into fat-free mass, fat mass and minerals giving a more accurate result.
One of the great things about the DEXA scan is it gives a more detailed representation of the distribution of the body fat, which may be important for health reasons.
For example health risks are associated with fat stored in the abdominal region so whilst a person may have a healthy body fat percentage the fat they have may be localized to the abdomen putting that person at risk for disease.
The downside of the DEXA scan is that whilst it’s accurate it is expensive and not everyone has a health facility with access to a DEXA scanner.
For some elite athletes this may be a worthwhile endeavor but for the average person just wanting to lose weight this is a little overkill.
What is BMI?
BMI stands for Body Mass Index and is a rough assessment of a person’s health based on the concept that an individual’s weight should be proportional to their height.
Health risks are associated with a high BMI according to MedlinePlus.
BMI 30 - 40.0, the higher your BMI, the greater is your risk of developing obesity-related health problems.
- High blood glucose (sugar) or diabetes.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High blood cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia or high blood fats).
- Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
- Bone and joint problems -- more weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
- Stopping breathing during sleep (sleep apnea). This can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention, and problems at work.
- Gallstones and liver problems.
How is BMI calculated?
As the BMI uses height and weight these are the only two measurements needed which makes this an easy measurement for anyone to do.
- BMI = Weight (kg) / Height (m²)
- BMI = [Weight (lbs)/Height (in²)]x703
There are also calculators online which you can input your height, and weight to discover your BMI.
For adults the BMI ranges are listed below.
Children have their own scale which is calculated the same way but compared to other children in their age bracket.
- Underweight = BMI less than 18.5
- Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
- Overweight = 25–29.9
- Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
Note: Whilst BMI can be a useful measure of health for the general population it may not work for all especially individuals with more muscle mass, some athletes, and specifically body builders.
BMI relies on weight as a measurement in its calculation and as muscle is denser than fat the individual with more muscle mass is going to weight more, and give an anomalous result.
Thus using the BMI method is not recommended for muscular individuals.
Can I burn fat from one area of my body?
No. It would be great if that were possible but our bodies are amazing and burn fat in a predisposed manner, which is dependent on our sex and genetics.
So despite magazines telling you that certain exercises "burn body fat from your booty" they cannot.
Physiology tells us that spot reducing is a myth.