Instead of relying on your bathroom scale when looking to get in better shape, you should take into account your body fat percentage. When relying solely on weight to measure your fitness, you do not take into account the amount of actual fat on your body. It is always a good idea to keep track of your weight, but it is also important to keep an eye on your body fat percentage as well.
Body Mass Index
The easiest way to get an idea of your body fat percentage is to use the Body Mass Index scale or BMI. Though this does not exactly measure your body fat percentage, it gives you an idea of your body's fatness. This formula shows you the amount of fat your body has relative to its lean tissue. For most people, this equation provides a fairly accurate association of the amount of body fat they have. To quickly calculate your BMI, divide your weight (in pounds) by your height squared (in inches).
Use these categories to determine your results:
- Underweight: Below 18.5
- Normal: 18.5-25
- Overweight: 25-30
- Obese: Above 30
Calculating Body Fat Percentage
Measuring body fat percentage is a bit more involved than using the BMI formula, which is why the BMI formula is so widely used. At a gym or at a dietician's office, you can have your body fat percentage tested with calipers. Calipers are a clamp-like device that is used to take skinfold measurements at several locations on your body. This method is less accurate than many other body fat measurement tools, however, it is much easier that other methods to use, making it the most commonly used method for measuring body fat percentage.
Some of the technologies used to calculate body fat include:
- Underwater weighing: this is one of the most accurate methods, though very expensive and time consuming.
- Dual X-ray Absorptiometry Scan: this scan uses a low-level x-ray to determine your amount of body fat, bone and muscle.
- Bioelectrical Impedance: this method measures the speed of electrical currents as they go through your body. One of the least expensive methods, this is often a feature on higher end bathroom scales.
What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?
Healthy body fat percentages vary greatly depending on your age, gender and body type. Here are the basic guidelines for a healthy body fat percentage:
Men Body Fat Percentages:
- Ages 20-39: 8% to 19%
- Ages 40-59: 11% to 21%
- Ages 60-79: 13% to 24%
Women Body Fat Percentages:
- Ages 20-39: 21% to 32%
- Ages 40-59: 23% to 33%
- Ages 60-79: 24% to 35%
Reducing Your Body Fat
To lower your body fat, you must eat fewer calories than you use. The human body is made to store fat so that it maintains reserves of energy. If you take in fewer calories, your body will burn these fat reserves.
To healthily lose weight, you should aim to lose at a slow pace of no more than 2 pounds per week. Additionally, you should be sure to exercise to minimize the loss of muscle and maximize the loss of fat.