Know Your Body Composition, Even If You are Thin

Body Fat Percentage

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Many people spend countless hours trying to get to a certain number on a scale, so they can achieve their optimal weight. But an ideal total body weight in pounds doesn’t necessarily equate to optimal health. Looking at how much lean body mass, fat and water is in those pounds will tell you much more about the state of your health and may provide a launching pad for further investigation. For example, if you have what is usually considered to be a very healthy weight with 40 percent body fat and low muscle mass, it’s not your weight that needs to change – it’s your body composition.

I found a report from The University of New Mexico to be very instructive about the topic of body composition. I will simply quote from the article because it helped me understand the issue.  

“Now, more than ever before, people are preoccupied with how much they weigh. New clients walk into our classes on a daily basis hoping that exercise will be the panacea. . . Being thin does not necessarily reduce one's health risk. In fact, obsession with becoming thin often leads to serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Thinness simply refers to weighing less than the recommended values in age-height-weight tables. Leanness, on the other hand, refers to the muscle, bone, and fat composition of your body weight. Although some lean individuals may actually weigh more than their "tabled" ideal body weight, low body fat lessens the risk of health problems. “

So the truth is even if we are at a healthy weight, low muscle mass or total body water or a high body fat percentage puts us at risk for some very serious health conditions. And what’s even more disturbing is some people may have dangerous levels of excess fat or low muscle mass and not even know it. That is why it is so important to determine what your body composition of fat, water and muscle mass is when we assess our overall health.   

According to the American Council on Exercise, body fat ranges for optimal health are around 18%-30% for women and 10%-25% for men. Athletes may have even lower body fat. But keep in mind, fat is essential for a healthy body. Women should be no lower than 10 to 13% body fat, while men should go no lower than 2 to 5%. Remember, fat is essential for energy and cell growth.

So what’s wrong with having too much body fat?

Too much body fat may increase your risk of developing:

  • Hypertension
  • Elevated blood lipids (fats and cholesterol)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory dysfunction
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Some joint diseases

And visceral fat, which is fat around the abdomen and waist area, may increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).

What about water?

Roughly half of our body should be water. Generally, body water percentage for men is around 60% and for women about 55%. Body fat contains less water than muscle mass, and this accounts for the difference between men and women.  

It is also important to understand the distinction between intracellular and extracellular water.  Extracellular water is body water that is not inside the cells. Water found inside the cells is called “intracellular water.” Add the water inside the cells and the water outside the cells, and you get your “total body water.” An increase in extracellular water (or the water outside your cells) can cause excess weight and swelling in your limbs. It can be an early sign of an imbalance in your body. Such imbalances may include hormone, protein, sodium, potassium, magnesium and pH. As a result of these imbalances, you can develop hypertension, decreased mental alertness, nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath.

You can measure both your intracellular and extracellular water with an Inbody machine.

What about lean body mass?

This is usually the weight that you carry on your body that is not fat. The more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolism.  

So how do you measure your body composition?

One way is to use a body composition machine which looks like this. These machines are starting to show up in many doctor’s offices. It is pretty much like stepping on a scale at home, but this weigh in will give you much more detailed information including total body fat and body fat percentage, lean body mass, BMI, total body water and basal metabolic rate.

So it may be time to ditch the scale and be proactive about knowing your body composition.Your body is so much more than a number on the scale. Know the ins and outs of your body and what it is composed of. And as you probably know, generally a scale simply tells you how much you weigh.

An informed patient, is a healthy patient.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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