Why Your Body Fat Percentage Matters

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When it comes to good health, your weight is just one piece of the puzzle. Being aware of your body fat percentage can be crucial.

For monitoring their health and fitness, most people keep their focus on either weight or body mass index (BMI). The problem is, these numbers don’t always provide the most accurate portrayal of your actual fitness level. An ideal weight, for example, can vary quite a bit based on your height or body type. BMI takes your height into account, but it can have some limitations as a fitness measurement tool, as well.

All about BMI

Your body mass index uses both your weight and height to determine if your weight is healthy for you. To calculate your own BMI, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 703, then divide that number by your height in inches and divide that answer by your height in inches one more time. That number should fall into the sections of this BMI scale:

  • Below 19 – Underweight
  • 19 to 24 – Healthy
  • 25 to 29 – Overweight
  • 30 or higher – Obese

While knowing your BMI is useful to see where you stand, the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that the calculation doesn’t work well for everyone. Highly trained or muscular athletes, for example, may have a BMI measurement of overweight or obese when they’re incredibly fit. Older individuals may also exhibit a higher BMI than expected due to declining muscle mass.

Adding body fat percentage

Stephen Henry, D.O., an orthopaedic sports medicine expert at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, says that, along with BMI, it’s important to know your body fat percentage as well when assessing your overall fitness and future goals. "I think it’s valuable to look at your body fat percentage along with BMI and overall metabolic profile, including a lipid panel, thyroid function, and overall exercise capacity,” he says. “This gives us a clearer overall picture of a patient’s fitness and allows us to determine what steps are needed to move their health in the right direction.”

According to the American Council on Exercise, there are several ways to calculate your body fat percentage. Methods, such as hydrostatic weighing, Bod Pod, or Dual X-ray Energy Absorptiometry (DEXA), can all produce accurate results. Less expensive options include bioelectrical impedance analysis and the tried and true skin-fold calipers.

While these don’t provide precise results, they can give you a pretty good idea of where you stand.

What to look for in your body fat percentage

Dr. Henry, a sports medicine expert, says that your ideal body fat percentage can vary widely depending on your age, gender, and fitness goals. “Generally speaking, the healthy range for women is 14 to 38%, and the healthy range for men is 6 to 24%,” he says. “Some fat is essential for cushioning organs, as well as mediating regulatory mechanisms of the body via hormones, cytokines, and metabolites.”

How to get your body fat percentage to a healthy level

If you’d like to reduce your body fat percentage, Dr. Henry says that many of the same tenets apply as reducing your weight or BMI. He suggests the following:

  • Get plenty of aerobic exercises. Aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week is the minimum. Still, Dr. Henry says that striving for more activity or a higher intensity can be even more useful.
  • Add in strength training. Getting at least two strength-training sessions each week in addition to aerobic exercise can help build muscle and further reduce body fat percentage.
  • Cut down on calories. Even small steps, like replacing chips and crackers with carrot sticks, cutting down on sugary snacks, and replacing soda with water, can help bring your calorie count down and reduce your body fat percentage.


Wyatt Myers  is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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