Here's the scoop... your body is composed of lean body mass and fat. Fat is where you store excess calories for fuel. Lean body mass is everything that's not fat-bones, organs, muscle, and blood.
Why is body fat important?
The purpose of body fat is the storage of energy to be used by the body. It also helps provide warmth and protection for our bodies. Internal fat helps support and provide protection for the spinal cord, hear and vital organs. Therefore, the real problem is not body fat - it is excess body fat.
What are some of the health risks with having too much body fat?
Excess body fat has been associated with, among other things, increased chances for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
What should your body fat percentage be?
The optimal body fat percentage varies considerably for men and women as well as age. However, the minimum percent body fat considered safe for good health is 5% for males and 12% for females. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a high correlation with illness and disease for men with over 25% and women with over 32% body fat percentages.
On the average, most young men have a body fat percentage of 15 to 17% and most young women have a body fat percentage of 18 to 22%. Among athletes, it varies, but is usually lower than the general averages. Athletic men average around 6% to 12% and athletic women average around 12% to 20%.
Body fat percentage is an important health assessment tool. It provides useful information about a person's fitness levels and overall well-being that cannot be gleaned from weight measurements alone.
For example, two women can be the same height and weigh the same, yet one can be carrying too much fat while the other is not. How is this possible? Take a look at these results:
- Lisa is 5'6", weighs 130 pounds, and her body fat percentage is 18%. This is a healthy fat percentage. Her total fat is 0.18 x 130 = 23.4 pounds, and her lean body mass is 130 - 23.4 = 106.6 pounds.
- Martha is also 5'6" and 130 pounds, but her body fat percentage is 30%. This is unhealthy. Her total fat is 0.30 x 130 = 39 pounds, and her lean body mass is 130 - 39 = 91 pounds.
Prior to the late 70's, body fat percentage was an obscure tool. Height and weight charts-popularized by insurance companies-told you if you were overweight or underweight for your height and frame size.
Today, there are four main ways in which to measure your body fat:
- Skinfold Calipers. This is perhaps the best way for the average person to measure body fat. It requires skinfold calipers and the help of another person.
- Wrist Tape-Measure. This method relates wrist size to height. It is not recommended because it is too inaccurate. It requires numerical tables to use.
- Underwater Weighing . This is the gold standard, but you need to find a fitness center with a pool or tank and the right equipment.
- Bioelectrical Impedance Scales . This method measures body fat composition by sending a low, safe electrical current through the body.
You can purchase the Accu-Measure Fitness 3000 Personal Body Fat Tester - skinfold calipers - through EnergyFirst at www.energyfirst.com . And, after you have taken your skinfold measurements, you can go to the EnergyFirst website to calculate your body fat percentage.