So many of us have been conditioned to live or die by those dreaded digits on the scale. Like age, that weight is just a number. There are so many factors to consider when thinking about what weight is healthy for you and your body. But, what is body fat percentage and how does it play into the equation?
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
In simplest terms, your body fat percentage is the percentage of your body weight that is fat. Simple, right? OK, let’s dig in: If you weigh 130 pounds and have 13 pounds of fat, your body fat percentage is 10% (often seen as 13/130). (Of course, this is a very low body fat percentage, but we didn’t want to go too math-deep!)
Keep in mind that your body fat changes as your body changes. This can occur with weight loss or weight gain, so it also changes if you slack on your fitness schedule. When you lose muscle mass because of missed workouts, this lost muscle often turns to fat—ugh—and this will, in turn, increase your body fat percentage. Fun, right? Wrong.
How Do I Find Out My Body Fat Percentage?
Many fitness facilities will have fancy schmancy machinery and gadgets to gauge your body fat percentage. Or, you can purchase a set of Body Fat Calipers for about five bucks. Pull the fat (not just the skin!) away from your muscles, and pinch with the calipers. Next, take the measurements, and compare your measurements to a chart (like this one) to figure out your body fat percentage. (Note: Men and women will use calipers on different body areas to measure body fat percentage.)
If you’re not into gadgets, you can also use a body fat calculator and do some math (yikes!) to get your total body fat percentage. There is some debate about the most accurate way to check your body fat percentage, so keep that in mind no matter what method you choose. Average body fat percentage for men is 18-25% and it’s 25-31% for women. For other ranges in men and women, and what they mean, click here.
What Can I Do About It?
This is kind of a no-brainer, but we’ll tell you (again!) anyway: Eat right and exercise!
As we age, our bodies slow down in so many ways: our metabolism, our recovery time, and our fitness levels. Your body fat percentage changes with you as your body composition evolves, so stay healthy to keep your body fat percentage in line with a healthy lifestyle.
Use your body fat percentage to inform you fitness regimen and your diet. Remember, if you lose muscle, it’s likely your body fat percentage will increase, so losing weight isn’t necessarily the best way to maintain a healthy body fat percentage because you could be losing muscle when you diet or drop a few pounds.