A Healthier U

Want to lose weight? Pay attention to body composition

By Alana Schroeder, web content specialist for the Interactive Marketing & Web Team at University of Utah Health Care

It’s a new year, and just like last year, losing weight is this year’s most popular New Year’s resolution. You may think being thin is your surest path to health.

But have you thought about your body composition lately?

“Body composition is a measurement of a person’s fat mass and fat-free (lean) mass. Testing your body composition can be a great way to monitor and reach realistic health and fitness goals,” says Traci Thompson, director of PEAK Health & Wellness at the University of Utah.

Losing weight vs. healthy body composition

You’ve probably heard it over and over: If you want to be healthy, lose weight!

But when it comes to preventing heart disease and early death, it’s actually more important to be fit than skinny.

“Having a healthy body composition isn’t just about losing weight. Studies show that being fit is more important than how much you weigh when it comes to lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality,” explains Thompson.

Fat vs. muscle mass

When you lose weight, you will probably also lose muscle mass. But being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low body fat percentage.

Body composition measures the percentage of fat compared to fat-free mass (muscle, bone, and water) in your body.

The key is to have a healthy ratio of fat to muscle. Skeletal muscle and bone density help you perform daily activities and prevent diseases like osteoporosis.

Physical activity paired with a healthy diet can help you lose weight and achieve a body composition that’s healthy for you. Even moderate exercise — 30 minutes most days of the week — can bring big health benefits.

How Is body composition measured?

  • The BOD POD is an egg-shaped chamber that measures body composition through volume and pressure through air displacement. It’s fast, easy and non-invasive and is considered very accurate (+ or – 2percent).
  • The skinfold measurement is fairly quick and moderately invasive. Specialists measure thickness of a skinfold at seven different places on your body. This method can be accurate. But the same person should measure you each time to prevent errors.

The table below shows the body fat percentage that’s generally considered healthy:

Women Men
<15% Risky (low body fat) <5%
15-18% Very lean 5-8%
19-22% Lean 9-12%
23-30% Moderate 13-20%
31-40% Excess fat 21-30%
>40% Risky (high body fat) >30%

A benchmark for health

Body composition is one of the best indicators of overall health. “It can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic disease, osteoporosis and other diseases,” explains Thompson.

A healthy body composition can also do the following:

  • Improve ability to perform day-to-day activities
  • Increase energy
  • Help maintain cognitive function and decrease stress

Now that’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.

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For more expert health news and information, visit healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed.