That how much muscle and fat you have is more important than how many pounds you weigh. So, how can you compute your body fat?
It’s definitely better off doing a jiggle check to assess your body composition (or amount of muscle and fat) than hopping on the scale. Ideally you should have plenty of lean muscle tissue and a healthy amount of fat. Scales can tell you how much you weigh, but that says nothing about what the weight consists of. You can be thin but have a minimal amount of muscle and a high percentage of body fat. Alternatively, you may be heavier than you think you should be, but have a whopping metabolism and look lean and cut, because you’re strong and firm and have a healthy amount of body fat.
The most accurate way to measure body fat is to use an underwater weighing tank, also known as hydrostatic weighing. Wearing a bathing suit, you sit in an underwater chair and blow as much air out of your lungs as you can as you get dunked in the water. Obviously this method is a bit time-consuming, if not a little soggy! Call your local university’s human performance lab in the exercise science department to see if you can be tested.
Another highly reliable method is a dry test during which you sit in a capsule for five minutes. The air displacement is measured and your fat percentage calculated. This test is available at a few health clubs, and many hospitals and universities.
For a good estimate, ask the trainers at your local health club to measure you with body fat calipers. This is a tool that literally measures fat by “pinching an inch” from different sites on your body, then entering the figures into a general calculation. This can be accurate if it’s performed by a seasoned tester, but you can also get an unreliable reading, too.
If you’re wondering about those at-home body fat scales, know that they’re not very accurate since they use vague estimates in the formulas in order to give you a figure. (During one reading, when I stepped on the scale and plugged in that I was an “athlete,” my body fat was said to be 13 percent, but then a minute later, when I stepped on and plugged in that I was an “average” woman, I was given a reading of 25 percent.)
So, how fat should you be? If you’re a woman and more than 30 percent of your body is fat tissue, then you’re more at risk for developing obesity-related illness such as diabetes and heart disease. If your body fat percentage is lower than 17 or 18 percent, then your health also can be negatively affected. (Many women stop getting their period when their body fat gets too low.) The healthiest range for women is within 18-25 percent.
What’s the best way to improve your score? Do resistance training to build up the muscle mass that all woman lose as they age, and follow a sensible diet to avoid excess fat.
Go lift some weights!