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Understanding Body Fat and How To Lower Its Percentage

So many people work hard to reduce or get rid of body fat. The mere mention of body fat seems to be antithetical to fitness and good health. The reality is, we need a certain amount of body fat. Our bodies store body fat to provide energy reserves, and it provides insulation and protection. 

The key to body fat is to ensure that you have just the right amount of body fat for you. This is the difficult part. There is no common standard for how much body fat is healthy for everyone. While we cut calories and watch what we eat in order to eliminate body fat, we should also be aware of just how much body fat we need to stay healthy. 

We know too much body fat is not healthy. Excess body fat can lead to a long list of serious health conditions. But how much is the right amount of body fat? What exactly is body fat? And how do you figure out how much body fat is good for you and your body? This guide will explain all you need to know about body fat. 

What is body fat?

Body fat is known in medical terms as adipose tissue. It works as a reserve of energy when you do not have a direct supply from dietary sources. Adipose tissue, or body fat, provides a protective layer on the body. 

Our health depends on a certain amount of body fat and specific types of body fat. We most often talk about body fat as if it is one thing and it is to be avoided. The truth is body fat comes in different forms. Some body fat is necessary for us to be healthy and even survive.  

The amount of body fat we carry at any given time is also an important factor. Body fat is usually measured in a percentage. Our body fat percentage is one factor among many that describe our level of health and fitness. 

How to calculate body fat

Body fat percentage can be calculated in several ways. There are methods to determine body fat percentage that are extremely precise and are generally used for specific medical purposes. Then there are methods to determine body fat percentage that give more of an estimate but which can be sued to set up a health and fitness plan. 

The three main ways to determine body fat percentage include: 

Skinfold calipers

This method for estimating body fat percentage has been used for decades. Skinfold calipers give you enough information to work toward health and fitness.

Skinfold calipers measure the subcutaneous fat in several key locations around the body. Usually, anywhere from 3-7 measurements are taken to get a good sense of body fat percentage. 

For women, measurements are taken at the triceps, just above the hipbone, thigh, and abdomen.  

For men, measurements are typically taken at the chest, abdomen, thigh, triceps, and beneath the scapula. Sometimes measurements are taken at the armpit areas and below the shoulder blades. 

Depending on the skill of the person taking the measurements, skinfold calipers can give an accurate measurement of body fat percentage within about a 3-5 percent margin of error. This is generally sufficient unless greater accuracy is necessary for medical reasons. 

Body circumference measurements

You can get a sense of your body fat percentage by measuring certain parts of your body. Body circumference measurements are used by the US military to determine body fat percentage. 

There is a simple equation for using these measurements. For men, measure the neck and waist circumference. For women, measure the circumference of the hips, neck, and waist. 

The accuracy rate for body circumference measurements can be within a 2-4 percent error range. 

Hydrostatic weighing

This is a method in which your body is weighed underwater. Also called hydrodensitometry, hydrostatic weighing can be used to measure several forms of body density. 

The technique involves weighing your body while you are submerged in water after exhaling as much air from your lungs as you can. Another measurement is taken of your weight on dry land. 

These measurements are entered into an equation that can give an accurate account of your body fat percentage, among other body density calculations. 

There are three main types of body fat. Each plays a different role in the body, and at least one type of body fat is made up of a combination of adipose tissue. 

There are three kinds of fat in the body

Subcutaneous or White fat, brown fat, and beige or brite fat. 

Subcutaneous or White fat

Is what most people think of when they talk about body fat. White fat is made up of large white cells that are stored under the skin. White fat is also stored around the main organs and in the belly, arms, buttocks, and thighs. White fat is how the body stores energy for later use. 

White fat cells

Are important for many physiological functions. It plays an important role in hormone functions for things like estrogen, leptin which stimulate hunger, insulin, cortisol, and growth hormones. 

It is important to maintain some white fat. When we accumulate too much white fat, we begin to risk health problems. Healthy levels of white fat depend entirely on diet and exercise.

Beige, or brite fat

This type of fat functions in between white and brown fat cells. It is thought that beige fat cells actually burn fat rather than store it in the body. 

There are specific enzymes that release beige fat when we are cold, stressed, or when we need to convert white fat cells into energy. 

These forms of body fat play a role in the three types of body fat that concern us here.

The three types of body fat include

Subcutaneous

This refers to the fat stored just under the skin. Subcutaneous body fat consists of a combination of brown, beige, and white fat cells. Most of our body fat is subcutaneous body fat. 

Health professionals use calipers to measure subcutaneous body fat to estimate body fat percentage and gauge how to work toward fitness and health. 

A small amount of body fat is considered healthy. It is when we carry too much excess subcutaneous body fat that we start to develop health problems. 

Visceral

This type of fat is more problematic. Often called “belly fat,” visceral body fat is made up of white adipose tissue cells. It is stored in your abdomen and around all your major organs like the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, and heart. 

High levels of visceral fat can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arterial diseases, and some types of cancer. 

Brown

Brown fat cells are primarily found in babies. However, some brown fat is retained into adulthood. We typically store brown fat in the neck and shoulders. 

Brown fat serves an important function. It burns fatty acids to keep you warm. Researchers are studying the possibility that brown fat cells may actually help prevent obesity. 

How body fat affects your health

When we talk about how body fat affects the body, we are really talking about the adverse effects of too much body fat or obesity. Obesity is a serious problem that can cause a host of serious and even fatal illnesses. 

The most common problems associated with too much body fat are those that impact the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Carrying too much body fat forces the body to work hard to pump blood through your body. This can lead to high blood pressure which is a leading cause of strokes. 

Obesity also can make your body resistant to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that carries sugar to cells in the body for energy. If you are resistant to insulin, the sugar in your blood system begins to accumulate. This leads to type 2 diabetes which is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and blindness. 

Too much body fat negatively impacts your entire body. In addition to the cardiovascular system, excess fat can cause serious problems in your skeletal system by putting too much strain on the bones and connective tissues. It can negatively affect your respiratory system, making it harder to breathe. Excess fat can even cause problems for women and their reproductive systems. 

 

What is body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage (BFP) is the total mass of body fat divided by the total body mass, multiplied by 100. The BFP is a measure of essential body fat and storage body fat that can be used to determine the amount necessary for health. The essential body fat differs for men, women, and children and can differ for people based on other factors. 

Ideal body fat percentage for women

There are in fact two different measurements to determine your healthy weight and fat percentage. Body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage. BMI does not vary according to women and men. It is an index of measurements. Healthy body fat percentages are different for men and women, and a healthy body fat percentage will also vary according to your athletic levels and age.  

The ranges for body fat percentage are below: 

For women

Essential fat: 10-13 percent

Athletes: 14-20 percent

Fitness: 21-24 percent

Acceptable: 25-31 percent

Obese: More than 32 percent

Ideal body fat percentage for men

Essential fat: 2-5 percent

Athletes: 6-13 percent

Fitness: 14-17 percent

Acceptable: 18-24 percent

Obese: More than 25 percent

Tips to lower body fat percentage

The most effective way of reducing your body fat percentage is simply to take in fewer calories than you burn. This is simple math. When your calorie intake is less than the number of calories you burn in the course of a day, you will end up with a net loss of calories. This translates into burned fat and a reduction in body fat percentage. 

A balanced and healthy diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy carbohydrates will provide the calories necessary for a healthy body and low body fat percentage. Regular exercise combined with this healthy diet is the ideal way to reduce body fat percentage. 

You can also help reduce your body fat percentage by paying attention to the kinds of foods you eat.  

Body Fat FAQs

What is body fat?

Body fat is known in medical terms as adipose tissue. It works as a reserve of energy when you do not have a direct supply from dietary sources. Adipose tissue, or body fat, provides a protective layer on the body. 

What are the different types of body fat?

Body fat exists as white, brown, and beige body fat. It can be classified as visceral and subcutaneous body fat. 

What is body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage (BFP) is the total mass of body fat divided by the total body mass, multiplied by 100. The BFP is a measure of essential body fat and storage body fat that can be used to determine the amount necessary for health.

How do I measure body fat percentage?

The easiest way to measure body fat percentage is with skinfold calipers. 

Conclusion

Body fat is generally seen as something to get rid of and avoid. For people who are committed to fitness and good health, body fat is a problem. The truth is body fat is actually important. We need to maintain a specific level of body fat to stay healthy. 

When we carry too much body fat, we begin to have problems. Too much body fat can lead to serious health problems. High blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and reproductive issues can all be the result of too much body fat. 

To make sure we are carrying the correct amount of body fat to ensure our good health, body fat percentage is one good measure to keep track of things. By measuring body fat percentage, you can maintain your body fat levels toward better health. 

The best way to maintain healthy levels of body fat is by eating a healthy diet by getting regular exercise. To lose body fat, simply reduce the number of calories you consume and increase your physical activity. 

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