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Body Fat: Not all pounds are the same


We’re all carrying fat, muscles, bones, organs and more in our bodies. Besides our weight, more important is the distribution of all those things. Measuring body fat is one of the most effective ways to evaluate your diet and workout regimen. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about body fat.

What is meant by body fat

Body fat is one of your body’s main components. It protects organs, covers joints, controls temperature, stores vitamins and is an energy supply for your body. To understand it’s function better, it can be divided into two different types: Essential body fat and nonessential body fat.

Your body uses essential body fat to function properly. It’s stored in your bones, organs, central nervous system and muscles. This type of fat helps regulate body temperature, provides cushion for internal organs and gives you energy during illness.

The nonessential body fat is also called excess body fat and is not needed for vital function. This extra fat is located where your body stores energy that can be used for fuel during starvation. If the amount of excess fat is too high, it can have a massive influence on your health. What mostly affects the amount of nonessential fat on your body is a diet too high in calories. Even if the food you eat is healthy or provides important benefits, if you eat too much of it, your body stores it as fat. A lack of activity can also be the reason for gaining nonessential body fat.

How it's measured

Measuring body fat is really important for determining your health and fitness. You should always remember, that weight alone is not a clear indicator of good health. BMI (Body Mass Index), which is also often used as a health indicator, is not as precise as body fat percent, because it is calculated by dividing weight by height. Therefore there is no distinguishing between pounds from body fat and pounds from lean body mass or muscles. That’s why you should measure your body fat percent.

There are several ways to measure it, some are more accurate and complex than others. It can be done by skinfold measurements, using calipers to measure skinfold thickness at various parts of the body. A rather new technique is the “high-tech” BOD POD. It’s a tracking system to assess the body composition. Another approach, mostly commonly used in fitness facilities is BIA (Bioelectrical impedance analysis). The principle behind this method is that an electrical signal is sent to your body. When it encounters fat, there is more resistance, because fat contains only little water.

Any of these methods are best done by a trained health and fitness professional. Check your local fitness establishment to see what’s available for you to measure your body fat.

How much body fat should you have?

The general healthy body fat percentage for men should range from 6% to 24% and for women it’s between 14% and 31%.

Here is an overview of body fat percentage norms for men and women. It tells you about your fitness level in relation to the percentage of fat you have:

Essential fat2-5%10-13%

Keep in mind that the percentage changes with age, but it should always stay within a healthy range.

Why it differs for men and women

On average, women have 6% to 11% more body fat than men. By nature, it’s normal that women carry a greater amount of fat than men. The reason for this difference is that women might get pregnant at some point in their lives. They have to stock energy in the form of fat to nourish a baby from their own reserves. That’s why women have more enzymes for storing fat and fewer enzymes for burning fat. Besides that, the estrogen women hold activates fat storing enzymes and causes them to multiply.

What happens if your body fat is too high

It’s not just about the layers and rolls of fat around your thighs and torso. Having too much body fat can also result in health problems, especially if you follow a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Obesity can trigger type 2 diabetes, has been linked to cancer and heightens the chances of you having a stroke. Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can also be caused by a too high level of body fat. The higher your percentage of body fat, the greater your risk of developing a chronic disease. Don’t let yourself be fooled: Even if you are not overweight, your body fat percentage can still be too high.

What happens if your body fat is too low

There can also be the case of not having enough body fat. You need to have at least a certain amount of fat in your body, because if it drops too low, it not only leads to decreased athletic performance, but can also have severe health consequences. Too little body fat can cause deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins, which your body can only absorb with fat. Another important factor is the risk of increased disease like heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, damage to the nervous system as well as the risk of organ shrinkage and an affect on your immune system. Also if you don’t have enough fat and a calorie deficit, your body will start using muscles for energy, what leads to an overall weakness. Having too less body fat as a woman can also affect the ability to carry a pregnancy.

So always make sure to provide your body with enough healthy fats for a long, healthy and qualitative life.

How to reduce body fat

Exercising and a healthy diet are the key to reducing body fat. Maintain a healthy well-balanced diet that is low in unhealthy fat and try to lower the amount of food intake each day to create a calorie deficit which will help you lose weight. Make sure that you eat enough proteins to prevent losing too much muscles.

Combine your healthy, well-balanced diet with a sufficient amount of any exercise, and you will be able to lower your body fat percentage. However, keep in mind that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most efficient and fastest form of exercise to lose fat. On top of that, consistent sleep patterns with a minimum of 7 hours are also crucial.

As you can see, fat is an important component of your body. But only in moderation. You should always keep your body fat percent at a healthy level for long term health and fitness. So make sure to stick to your workout routine and a healthy nutrition.