How to Measure Your Body Fat Percentage

How to Measure Your Body Fat Percentage

If you’re trying to lose or maintain your body weight, you probably step on the bathroom scale every so often to know if there are any changes in your weight. But there is another way to know if a person is really overweight and needs to lose some pounds. That method requires measuring the percentage of body fat. Do you know how much of your total weight is body fat?

What is Body Fat?

“Body fat” carries a negative connotation for many people who hear these words for the first time. But, truth be told, it is a very important concept when it comes to our health and survival. During the time when our ancestors did not have the facility to store and preserve food yet, it was their capability to store body fat that helped them to survive through the times of scarcity. Today, the ability to store body fat still forms an essential part of our daily survival. It helps preserve body heat and keeps our body organs functioning well.

The problem with body fat is when too much of it is stored in your body. You will be prone to suffer from health conditions, including hypertension, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. What is considered really dangerous is when you have what is called an “apple-shaped” body because of the stored fat on your waist. There is less concern when you only have stored fat on the thighs and hips forming a “pear-shaped” body.

How To Measure Body Fat

According to Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center, the normal percentage of body fat for men is 8 to 15 and for women it is 20 to 30. Several methods are available for measuring a person’s percentage body fat.

Underwater Weighing

The first is underwater weighing and is the most accurate, but not readily available because of the required expensive equipment. In this method, a person gets his weight on land and also underwater.

Bioelectric Impedance Analysis

The second method is called Bioelectric Impedance Analysis or BIA. In this fairly accurate method, electrodes are put on the hand and foot so that a current can pass through the person’s body without him or her feeling anything. The difference in resistance when the current passes through fat, which has less water thus more resistance, and muscle, which has more water thus less resistance, is measured. Using a formula, the results are computed to determine the percentage of lean tissue and body fat.

Body Mass Index

The third method is the easiest and involves taking the measurement of the waist circumference and computing for the Body Mass Index or BMI. Men and women who have a waist circumference of over 40 and 35 inches, respectively, should take care on their health.

To calculate BMI, you multiply your weight in pounds by 703, then divide the product by your height in inches twice. A BMI that falls below 18.5 indicates underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 is normal or ideal; 25 to 29.9 means overweight and above 30 means obese.

Here are two disclaimers about BMI. First, by itself BMI is not an indication of body fat. This is specifically true to bodybuilders and athletes. Children below 18 years of age shouldn’t use BMI as well.

Skin Caliper Test

There is still a fourth method of measuring body fat and that is by using a skin caliper to measure the fat in specific parts of the body. This method is prone to errors and it doesn’t measure interior fat nor fat in areas like the thigh and women’s breast.

Knowing your percentage body fat will give you an idea of how close you are to being healthy. Should the result be unsatisfactory, it’s time to do something — get moving and lose some weight.

Photo Source: 95Berlin via Flickr, CC by-SA 2.0

Categories: Fitness, Health

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