How can we be independent of what the scale may say, and what does the number on the weight scale really tell us? Generally, the measured value of body weight does not hold as important information as the composition of that weight does. We should be aware of our body composition rather than tracking scale weight every day. The scale may simply tell us the combined weight value of all the body’s tissues. That weight may vary throughout the day depending on different reasons and factors like the time of day, what we had eaten, hydration status or what clothes we are wearing. On the other hand, body composition represents the relative leanness, or the proportions of fat mass and lean (fat-free) mass in the body.
Fat mass consist of essential and nonessential fat, whereas lean mass (sometimes called active mass), refers to bones, tissues, organs and muscle. The generally accepted range of fat percentage, required for maintaining good health is of about 10-22% for men and 20-32% for women.
It is important to determine our body composition, because body fat levels in the recommended range suggests lower risk of developing obesity and related diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and even some kinds of cancers. Having high levels of fat mass is as health risky as having very low body fat percentage, which can lead to the exposure of another set of health problems. If our fat levels are below the minimal recommended range of essential fat, this can negatively affect the absorption of vitamins, which are vital for our organs, the function of the reproductive system and overall well-being.
Ways to Measure Body Composition
There are a number of different techniques that can be used to estimate body composition. Common methods of predicting the levels of adiposity include body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, measuring skin folds, bioelectrical impedance, and the BOD POD.
Methods That Do Not Assess Body Fat Percentage
Two of the methods that do not assess body fat percentage but can be useful for acquiring general information and making some assumptions, are BMI and waist circumference. BMI estimates weight relative to height and is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared (kg/m2). BMI values of 25 or higher is considered as an indicator for overweight problems while a BMI of 30 or greater is considered as a sign for obesity. This method may give a general idea of increased risk for obesity-related health problems, but it does not give precise information on body composition.
The measurement of waist circumference gives information that can be used to assess increased risk of obesity-related diseases due to the location of the excess body fat. This method can be applied by placing a cloth tape measure around the smallest part of the waist while standing relaxed. General safe ranges of waist circumference are at or below 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. Excessive weight located in the trunk area, is usually connected with a type of obesity that possesses increased risk for developing high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and premature death.
Methods That Estimate Body Fat Percentage
Body fat percentage can be estimated through different methods and techniques, here are three of the most common of them: measurement of skin folds, BOD POD measurements, and bioelectrical impedance analysis.
Body fat percentage can be estimated by using calipers to measure skin fold thickness at various given body sites. The sum of the values taken from the skin folds can be used in a specific formula to calculate percent body fat. The results can be estimated fairly quick and can be accurate. However, it is important a trained technician to make the measurements and use the right formula, in order to estimate correct results.
Another approach to body composition assessment and an effective way of measuring body fat is the BOD POD. The method allows the measurement of body weight and volume. Due to the property of fat to be less dense than lean tissue, the weight-to-volume ratio can serve to predict percent body fat. One of the common ways to measure body fat, used in fitness facilities is bioelectrical impedance analysis. Because fat contains far less water than the lean body compartment, when an electrical current encounters fat, there is more resistance. This principle can be used to determine fat percentage, by measuring how easily currents move through the body.
When the calculation of the body fat percentage is performed by trained health and fitness specialists, they can make accurate assessments and will also be able to explain the results to you. These results can be used to identify or predict health risks, compose a suitable personalized workout program, or evaluate the present results of your ongoing fitness routine. If you find out that you are in healthy ranges of body fat levels, then your exercise and diet program is working for you, if you find that you are not in the healthy range, then you need to improve your routine and make behavioral lifestyle changes, in order to prevent or significantly decrease the risk of future health problems.
To be aware and make the right assessment of your body composition, you need more than just measuring with the weight scale. Remember, it is possible for your scale weight to remain the same, but to experience sensible changes in fat mass and lean mass proportion.
Measuring and Evaluating Body Composition (acsm.org)