6 Best Methods to Measure Body Fat Percentage

6 Best Methods to Measure Body Fat Percentage

Our body is made up of different components like muscle mass, fat mass, water weight, bones mass, etc. Body fat is beneficial, just as the “healthy” fats found in avocados. Fat gets stored in your body as deposits for energy, insulation, and internal organ protection. Everyone needs fat to live and function. However, accumulating too much body fat can lead to obesity and obesity-related disorders like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But how do you figure out how much body fat you’ve got? It’s not as simple as looking in the mirror or stepping on a scale to determine your body fat percentage. And it’s also not just about the amount of fat; it’s also about where it’s stored. To figure out how healthy you are, you’ll need to calculate your body fat percentage. Body fat percentage indicates how much fat makes up your whole-body weight. The more lean muscle mass you have on your frame, the lower your body fat percentage is. There are multiple ways you can find out your percentage of body fat. Also, please remember that it is one of the most beneficial numbers to take a step toward a healthier life.

What is Body Fat Percentage?

Body fat percentage measures the total amount of fat in your body by distinguishing fat from muscle. In simple terms, it is a value that tells how much of your body weight comprises fat. Though used interchangeably in someplace, body fat percentage cannot be confused with Body Mass Index or BMI. It only indicates if you are underweight, average weight, overweight, or obese. Therefore, it cannot determine the amount of fat in your body. However, body fat percentage is a more exact measure of body fat than BMI, which is a general estimate. For instance, if you’re an athlete, you may have a low body fat % but a high BMI due to your muscle mass.

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What is an Ideal Body Fat Percentage?

Before assessing your body fat, it’s crucial to understand the target number based on gender and age. 

Women

  • 20-29 yrs. old: 16–24%
  • 30-39 yrs. old: 17–25%
  • 40-49 yrs. old: 19–28%
  • 50-59 yrs. old: 22–31%
  • 60+ yrs. old: 22–33%

Men

  • 20-29 yrs. old: 7–17%
  • 30-39 yrs. old: 12–21%
  • 40-49 yrs. old: 14–23%          
  • 50-59 yrs. old: 16–24%
  • 60+ yrs. old: 17–25%

These are general recommendations, and falling within these parameters is considered ideal. However, find what works the best for you and your health. For example, when the body fat percentage falls low, you lack the energy to perform daily activities. And if it goes too high, it puts you at risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Measuring Body Fat: The 6 Best Methods

There are many ways by which we can measure body fat. Each method has varying degrees of accuracy and cost – in general, the more expensive your body fat measurement instrument, the more accurate the measurement will be. However, keep in mind that every procedure, even the most expensive, has a margin of error.

The following are some of the most common methods for measuring body fat with their advantages and disadvantages:

Skinfold Callipers

Skinfold callipers assess the thickness of your subcutaneous fat- the fat beneath the skin, at various points on your body. They are one of the most affordable, simple, and portable methods of measuring body fat in specific locations. Three, four, or seven sites are used to assess skin folds (meaning parts of the body).

For men, the skinfold sites are the chest, thigh, and belly. Women should take triceps, thigh, and suprailiac measurements (right above the hip bone). When taking measures, read the calliper to the closest 0.5 mm and take at least two measurements of the same region, averaging them for the most accurate data. For consistency, measure on one side of your body, usually the right. You can also use an online skinfold calculator if you don’t want to calculate using the formula. 

Some callipers may have instructions for converting these numbers to your body fat percentage. Consider asking a friend or family member to help you with the measurements.

Advantages:

Skinfold callipers are relatively inexpensive and portable. One can take measurements quickly.

Disadvantages:

Since this method relies on data from only a few body areas, the margin for error is variable. It is also heavily dependent on the technician’s experience and knowledge. The most important thing to reduce error is to use the same areas every time. Calliper consistency requires practice; therefore, the answer is to practise a lot- or find an expert technician. The distribution of body fat can also influence the amount of accuracy.

Hydrostatic Weighing

This technique is often known as underwater weighing or hydrodensitometry. Your body density or weight is measured underwater as your body exerts a buoyant counterforce on the water. Your body fat percentage can then get calculated using the weight you recorded. Since fat is less dense than bone and muscle, a person with a higher fat percentage will weigh less underwater than the amount of water they displace. 

You will need to sit naked on an underwater mounted chair and scale to take measurements. After you need to exhale all of the air from your lungs, you are put into a water tank until totally submerged. You’ll remain motionless while your underwater weight is measured. All gathered information is fed into calculations to determine your body’s density. Your body density is then used to forecast your body fat percentage.

Underwater weighing is the gold standard for determining body fat percentage. The estimated proportion of body fat should be within 1% for both adults and children. In addition, it is far more precise than at-home approaches such as skinfold and bioelectrical impedance.

Advantages:

It is a highly accurate method with consistent results in measuring body fat. A study even stated the reliability of a hydrostatic weighing method using total lung capacity. 

Disadvantages:

Most tanks are situated within universities or research institutions and may not be accessible to the general public. It also involves a significant amount of commitment. It requires you to be submerged for 5-7 seconds and repeated three times, making it unsuitable for the children or elderly. This method is also ineffective for evaluating athletes because their bones are denser. It does not pinpoint the precise location of the fat in the body.

Bioelectrical Impedance Scales 

In bioelectrical impedance analysis, high-quality bathroom scales can measure your body fat percentage. The bioelectrical impedance scales range from the simple (a standard scale with electrodes under each foot) to the complicated (a scale that has handholds with additional electrodes). The machines all function by transmitting tiny electrical impulses through the body and detecting how quickly those impulses return. As lean tissue conducts electrical impulses faster than fatty tissue, a quicker response time is associated with a slimmer body.

Advantages:

It’s quick, easy, and comes at a reasonable cost.

Disadvantages:

Bioelectrical impedance tests are substantially less accurate than procedures such as DEXA scans. Variables such as hydration levels (since water conducts electrical impulses), meal times, and workouts significantly impact readings. For example, you plan to get a measurement immediately after exercise results in a lower body fat reading. 

You must adhere to a strict protocol. It is especially crucial when it comes to food and fluid intake. Take readings at similar times of day and under similar settings to achieve the most consistent reading.

DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)

DEXA is most typically used to evaluate bone density, but one can use it to examine body composition. For example, you lie still on a table as a robotic arm sweeps across your entire body. This arm produces both a high-energy and a low-energy X-ray beam. Technicians can obtain values for bone mineral density, lean body mass, and fat mass by monitoring the absorption of each beam into different regions of the body. Since this equipment scans individual body parts, the test can also break down body composition per limb.

Advantages:

1. The procedure is safe and reliable. 

2. It provides results in only 4 minutes. 

3. It is one of the best equipment for measuring body composition and hydrostatic weighing. 

4. Not only does it tell how much fat you have but also shows where the fat is distributed in the body

Disadvantages:

DEXAs are frequently inaccessible to the general population, are expensive, and produce radiation.

Air Displacement Plethysmography

Air displacement plethysmography (ADP) estimates your body fat percentage. Like hydrostatic weighing, it works on the density of your body. But it uses air instead of water. This device uses the link between air volume and pressure to estimate your body’s density. You sit inside an egg-shaped chamber while the air pressure inside the chamber is modified. You need to wear skin-tight clothing or a bathing suit to obtain exact measurements during testing. Then, which three measurements calculate body fat percentage. The entire technique takes around ten minutes and produces consistent results.

Advantages:

It is non-invasive, safe, and quick. It is accurate and has high reading consistency. In addition, unlike underwater weighing, the chamber does not involve getting wet. The chamber can also accommodate persons of any age, shape, or size and is appropriate for groups such as children, obese, the elderly, and the disabled.

Disadvantages:

ADP is not widely available and might be costly. In addition, it may be claustrophobic for some. The test also does not pinpoint the precise location of the fat in the body.

3D Body Scanner

The basis of this approach is the structure of the body. It uses efficient and modern infrared scanners to obtain a detailed and comprehensive view of the body’s shape. The scanners employed in this procedure generate a 3-D structure of the body, allowing for a clear understanding of the required features. The measurements are then subject to an algorithm, which calculates body fat percentage and various bodily tissue compositions. 3D scanners have a body fat error rate of 4%.

This approach employs sensors of various sizes and forms. For example, some scanners are similar to a revolving surface that stands still. In contrast, others rotate around your body to provide a full scan. 

Advantages:

3D mapping is within 2% of the DEXA method’s accuracy for most body types. You can also quickly and regularly track your progress and discover subtle changes using its mobile app. When you scan at the same time every day, your accuracy improves because you don’t have to worry about hydration or meal times as you do with bioelectrical impedance.

Disadvantages:

You might be concerned about removing your clothing. As when you’re naked, you’ll obtain a more accurate result. Tight pants with a shirt, on the other hand, work just as well. Just remember to put on the same costume for each reading. Maintaining as much stillness as possible during the scan will also provide the most precise results.

Deciding which method to use can be difficult, but being consistent and using the same method is best. Assessing yourself in the same method reduces error rates and makes it easy to see if you’re progressing.

However, you should always proceed with caution when interpreting the outcomes of any procedure. Even the most advanced methods are not perfect and can only provide an estimate of your actual body fat.

What Are the Complications of Excess Body Fat?

Excess body fat has significant health risks. It’s connected with high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. In addition, it impairs the body’s capacity to respond to insulin, increasing blood sugar and insulin levels. Excess body fat also contributes to significant causes of death and disability, such as heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, fatty liver, and depression.

Excess body fat also increases the risk of:

  • Digestive issues: An increase in fat percentage raises the risk of heartburn, gallbladder illness, and liver difficulties.
  • Sleep apnea: People with a more significant body fat percentage are more likely to suffer sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
  • Severe COVID-19 symptoms: An excessive increase in body fat percentage increases the chances of having severe symptoms if you become infected with the coronavirus.

How to Reduce Body Fat?

You can follow these simple steps to maintain a healthy body fat:

  • Try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (cycling, walking, water aerobics) or 75 minutes of strenuous exercise per week (swimming, sports, running).
  • Make time for weight training twice a week. Lifting weights, practising body-weight workouts, or doing yard work are good options.
  • Consume a diet high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In addition, a study shows that eggs for breakfast would enhance weight loss in overweight and obese people. But they must be consumed in a balanced way.
  • Avoid manufactured foods that are high in empty calories with little nutritious benefit.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes, especially when dining out. Restaurant portions are substantially more significant than single servings.
  • Consult your doctor about nutrition and exercise recommendations. You can use the HealthifyMe app to count your calories and keep track of your weight. 

Conclusion

To live a healthy life, you must have body fat. If you want to know your body fat %, you can do so at home or schedule an appointment at a medical facility or gym with equipment. There are numerous methods, ranging from simple measurements to costly examinations. If you use a combination of these strategies, you can get different results. 

Knowing the body fat percentage helps you decide on your fitness goal. It shows where you stand in terms of health. Keeping your body fat value at a healthy level can reduce the possibility of lifestyle diseases. If you want to lose weight, keep in mind that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient and kind to yourself no matter where you are on your journey. Body fat percentage can change with the correct dietary and lifestyle modifications. In the end, it’s all about taking care of your body.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the most accurate way to measure your body fat?

A. Hydrostatic weighing, also known as underwater weighing or hydro-densitometry, is the most accurate measure of body fat. It is considered the gold standard. It also produces consistent outcomes. 

Q. How can I measure my body fat at home?

A. To measure body fat at home, you can use smart scales. These use bioelectrical impedance analysis by transmitting tiny electrical impulses through the body and detecting how quickly those impulses return.

Q. What body fat percentage can you see?

A. A slimmer physique – often within the athletic range – is required for a six-pack. In addition, body fat percentages of 14 to 20% for women and 6% to 14% for men refer to an athletic body for six-pack abs. On the other hand, 5 to 9% fat percentage in men and 10-14% in women give visible six-packs and strong ab muscles. However, this range is common among athletes and bodybuilders.  

Q. How do I lower my body fat percentage?

A. Increasing physical activity and following a high protein and high fibre diet are some of the initial steps you can take to lower body fat percentages. For example, walking, running, weight training or any strenuous exercise done for at least 75 minutes per week. 

Q. Is there an app to measure body fat?

A. Many Android BMI Calculator apps estimate your BMI, waist-to-height ratio, approximate body-fat percentage, and BMR. Every calculation gets displayed on a screen with a personalised ideal number for that measurement. In addition, the iPhone includes an inbuilt bioelectrical impedance that uses a harmless electrical current to calculate your body fat percentages. 

Q. How accurate are scales for body fat?

A. Body fat is often measured using bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) on a weighing scale. The accuracy varies, with a range of 3.8–5% body fat error rate. However, it might be greater or lower depending on the instrument utilised. 

Q. How long does it take to get a toned stomach?

A. In as little as two weeks, you can notice slight changes in belly fat. The timeline varies from person to person. Cutting inches off your waistline could take a lot of effort and the perfect combination of diet and exercise. Remember, overnight results are not possible and trying hard for it can be hazardous to health.  

Q. Can see abs but still fat?

A. Yes, you can develop abs under the fat. However, it won’t be visible and can stay hidden underneath the subcutaneous fat layer. That’s because your body fat is not low enough.  

Q. What are the signs of fat burning?

A. When the body switches to fat-burning mode, you do not wake up hungry in the morning. As a result, there will be a reduction in sugar cravings, you’re not falling sick often, and you will have lesser mood swings. Furthermore, there is no energy slump, and you feel energised throughout the day.

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