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What Body Fat Percentage Should We Aim For?

First, you have to know that the main components of the body are water, fat mass, and lean mass. Body fat percentage tells us the proportion of fat in our body. Ideally, we should aim for a “normal” body fat percentage, since health risks are fewer in that range. For example, a man and a woman with a healthy weight should have a body fat percentage of 10 to 20 %, and 18 to 28 %, respectively.

One of the most readily accessible methods to find out what is your body fat percentage is to get an assessment of your body composition by impedance. This assessment can be done with the InBody device, available in all our centers.

Risks associated with a high body fat percentage
Being overweight poses health risks. Imagine for a moment that your body and your heart need to work harder all day long to carry your extra kilos. In this case, you will benefit from losing weight. However, weight does not tell the whole story. It is when these extra kilos are made of fat mass that more important risks come up. We think in particular of heart diseases, strokes, and even death. You should therefore aim for a normal body fat percentage in order to limit theses risks.

Risks associated with a low body fat percentage
Active people, such as athletes or those genetically predisposed to be skinny, can have a lower body fat percentage without health risks. However, a significant reduction in body fat that happens too quickly (going lower than 20 %) in women could cause disturbances in the menstrual cycle, and lead to cessation of menstruation. By the way, pre-teen girls require a percentage of about 17 % to trigger the first menstruation.

Body fat location
To conclude, I want to say that body fat percentage is not the most reliable indicator of risk for heart diseases. The best way to estimate your health risks and healthy weight is still to get a complete assessment of your body composition, including waist circumference. First, the body mass index (BMI) is used to determine which weight category you belong to. Then, the body composition assessment by impedance tells us in what proportions muscle mass and fat mass are distributed on your body. Finally, waistline circumference allows us to quantify abdominal fat, which is much more harmful to health. The location of body fat is the main factor of risk for the development of heart diseases. This is why we cannot rely solely on total bodyweight to determine health risks.

By Mathieu Rousseau

References:
1. Heo M et al (2012). Percentage of body fat cutoffs by sex, age, and race-ethnicity in the US adult population from NHANES 1999-2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 95(3):594-602.
2. Calling S et al. (2006). Effects of body fatness and physical activity on cardiovascular risk: risk prediction using the bioelectrical impedance method. Scand J Public Health. 34(6):568-75.
3. Paillard, T. Stratégie optimale d’amaigrissement dans les sports à catégories de poids. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 31: 684–692, 2006.
4. Shen W et al (2006). Waist circumference correlates with metabolic syndrome indicators better than percentage fat. Obesity (Silver Spring). 14(4):727-36.

Author
Mathieu Rousseau


What Body Fat Percentage Should We Aim For? is a post from I'm taking charge. I'm taking charge is a blog that aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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