Body fat percentage is the amount of you that's fat. We all need some fat, but when your body fat percentage gets too high, you're putting yourself at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, arthritis, some forms of cancer, and diabetes.
By monitoring body fat percentage, you'll have a better idea if you're losing fat or muscle. Or if you're gaining weight.
Measuring Your Body Fat Percentage
A body fat monitor is a device you can use at home to measure your body fat percentage. It sends a small current of electricity through your body, then analyses how different tissues -- fat, lean tissue, and fluid -- react to the current. These hand-held devices require you input your height, age, and weight. Then all you need to do is hold the device for a few seconds.
Or you can make it even easier by stepping on a body fat scale that calculates body composition along with your total body weight. Body fat scales are easy to find and easy to use, just input your age, height, and sex, then step on the scale and in a few seconds you'll have your readings.
Need Something More Accurate?
Body fat monitors and scales are easy to use and fairly accurate, but if you want something even more accurate, you need to see a health professional who uses a different method.
For example, he or she may use a set of calipers to pinch the fat folds on various parts of your body. These measurements, along with your height weight are used to determine your body fat percentage. You can buy body fat calipers to use at home, but you'll need help from another person.
Some health care providers offer DEXA, which stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. DEXA machines can measure bone density as well as body fat percentage.
Hydrostatic weighing involves being dunked under water in a big tank and exhaling completely. Bod Pods are similar, but they measure the displacement of air rather than water. These two methods are very accurate, but obliviously not something you can do at home.
What's a Good Body Fat Percentage?
Two people who weigh the same can have completely different body shapes. A muscular person with a big body frame may weigh the same as someone with a smaller frame and a lot more fat.
If you want to lose weight, you probably want to keep the amount of muscle you have and reduce your body fat. If you want to gain weight, you'll want to gain both muscle and fat.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the following chart shows whether or not your body fat percentage is in a healthy range:
Essential Fat: 2-5 percent
Athletes 6-13 percent
Fitness 14-17 percent
Acceptable 18-24 percent
Obesity greater than 25 percent
Essential Fat: 10-13 percent
Athletes 14-20 percent
Fitness 21-24 percent
Acceptable 25-31 percent
Obesity greater than 32 percent
Your body fat percentage is not the same as your Body Mass Index, which is a different measurement, and the charts are not the same, so don't confuse the two.
Time to take a walk.