Measuring your body fat content is recommended as one of the most important indicators of health and fitness. You can learn many things about your fitness and changes in your fitness if you measure and monitor your body fat and weight on a regular basis. It’s easy to do.
There is a truism: “Winners Keep Score”. If you want to “win” at managing your body fat % you will need to “keep score” by measuring it regularly.
The chart below will help answer the question, What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage? After that I’ll explain what to do with that knowledge to help improve you health and fitness AND how to easily measure your body fat.
Body Fat Percentages for Men
Ranges and Rating
Rating 20 – 39 yrs 40 – 59 yrs 60 – 79 yrs
LOW <8% <11% <13%
HEALTHY 8 – 20% 11 – 22% 13 – 25%
OVERWEIGHT 20 – 25% 22 – 28% 25 – 30%
OBESE >25%. >28% >30%
You can’t tell by weighing yourself and comparing that to a height-weight chart, to know what your % of body fat is. And so, you can’t tell if you have too much or too little fat, or, just right. The charts don’t consider muscle development. The only way to know the amount of fat you have is to measure it
In addition to knowing the amount of body fat you have, there are other significant benefits to measuring % of body fat and weight.
Probably the most important knowledge you get from monitoring % body fat is knowing the changes in your muscle tissue over time.
Once you know % of body fat you will also be able to determine the % of muscle, bone and organs.
For example: If you weigh 200 pounds and are 25% body fat, then 50 pounds of you are fat. Everything else is referred to as “lean mass”, which comprises 80% of your weight, or, 150 pounds.
Of the lean mass, the component that can change the most is muscle. So, if you monitor changes in your weight and % of body fat they can also determine their changes in muscle tissue.
Muscle tissue can increase or decrease depending on your diet, activities, exercise and lifestyle.
Sadly, most Americans don’t get enough exercise coupled with a healthy diet. What happens for most men over 60 is they gradually lose muscle tissue as the get older.
You can actually weigh the same at 60 as you did at 20 but have more fat and less muscle.
Farmers, tradesmen and laborers who get a lot of exercise in their work may not gain as much fat or loser as much muscle. This is especially true if they eat a healthy diet.
The rate of change can be modified with changes in lifestyle. Those who exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet can maintain, and, even gain muscle and lose fat.
Changes in body composition happens for most, starting at age 20. By age 25, if someone does not have a lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet, they will have more fat and less muscle than they did at age 20. They might weigh the same when they step on the scale.
If you monitor your % of body fat regularly you will be able to detect small changes and take corrective measures while they are slight and easy to correct.
Body Fat % and Body Composition
A beneficial use for % body fat measurements is important for many aging adults. The person who has the correct weight according to a height-weight chart or even underweight according to the charts. They may look fairly fit and may think they are quite healthy. And yet, they may have too much fat. Their underdeveloped muscles are why their weight aligns with the charts.
Another situation is with a strong, muscular person. Their weight may be well above what a height-weight chart would say they should be at. This person may think they need to go on a calorie-restrictive diet to lose weight to conform with the charts. If they did this, they would be losing muscle mass.
Measuring body fat % would reveal the truth, that that person does NOT need to lose weight. Neither a chart nor a scale will reveal this. Only body fat measurements will show it.
Another common situation is when someone starts a resistance training program. When they step on the scale, their weight may not be going down. This can happen even after months. Without knowing what body fat PERCENTAGE and muscle tissue PERCENTAGE they won’t know if the reality is they are losing fat and gaining muscle.
If someone becomes discouraged after a few months of working out because they haven’t lost weight, they could quit without knowing they have been gaining muscle and losing fat. Measuring body fat % reveals the truth about the gains from the workout regimen.
Almost everyone can benefit by measuring and monitoring their body fat %.
How to Measure Body Fat
There are several tools designed for measuring body fat. I’ll review them so you can make your own decision. I’ll also make a recommendation and tell you why.
The Bod Pod is something you stand in for a few minutes. It measures your body fat by air displacement plethysmography (ADP). It is very accurate. There are some doctors, physical therapists and health clubs that have these. You can find one near you by just doing an online search. The machines cost around $50,000. To go for a testing will cost you between $100 and $200 per visit.
Underwater weight (hydrodensitometry) test
The underwater weight test is considered as accurate as the Bod Pod. Again, you can do an online search to find a doctor or facility that has the equipment. Prices vary so you may wish to call more than one.
These are devices you hold in front of you. They are inexpensive and easy to use but not considered nearly as accurate.
These are devices that are inexpensive and easy to use. They are not as accurate as Bod Pods or underwater weight tests, but they are not far off. If you are some type of fitness professional, it may be worth it to get your body fat measured regularly via Bod Pod or underwater test. Having said that, there are many fitness professionals that use calipers.
If you’re like me and want to measure body fat as one of several ways to monitor my fitness trends, and you want to keep costs low, skinfold calipers are for you.
To use them, you pinch the fat on certain parts of your body and use the device to measure the fat as you pinch it. It’s quite simple. If you purchase one, detailed instructions will be included.
How to Know if You are Gaining Muscle and Losing Fat
It is quite simple to tell if you are gaining, losing or remaining the same with both muscle and with fat. If you are doing some type of resistance training designed to gain strength and burn calories, armed with your skin calipers and a scale, regularly measure your weight and your % of body fat.
You are gaining muscle and losing fat if:
- Your weight remains the same but your body % is decreasing
- Your weight is increasing but your body fat % is decreasing
- Your body fat % is decreasing at a greater rate than your weight is decreasing.
- For example: Your starting weight is 200 pounds and body fat is 25%. If you lose 10 pounds of weight, you’ve lost 5%. If your body fat % measures at 18%, you’ve lost 7% of body fat. You will have gained close to 2 % of muscle.
- Another way you can tell if you are losing fat and gaining muscle is:
- You lose weight, but you are able to train with more weight in your exercises. For example: if you lose ten pounds of body weight and you increase your bench press, squat and dead lift exercises by 10 pounds each, you know you’ve gained muscle.
I hope that now you are confident in answering the question for yourself, “What is healthy body fat percentage?”.
It is easy and inexpensive to measure your body fat % using skinfold calipers. If you do, you will be better equipped to monitor your progress in achieving your fitness goals. And, one terrific goal to have is to aim for “Healthy” body fat % for your age as listed in the chart above.
Please let me know if you have any comments or questions in the comment section below.
Wishing you great fitness and health!