Your body composition indicators actually reflect your health

When you step on a traditional scale, something happens: First, there may be a hint of anxiety. Then, the weight is digitally read. The number flashes for three seconds, nothing more. Return to zero, please step up to the next one.

Whether you are happy, indifferent, or temporarily defeated by this number, we all know that paying close attention to your weight is usually a wise move. A 2017 study of 294 female freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania found that, as long-standing theories, daily weighing helps reduce unnecessary weight gain.

However, many factors affect our overall weight. Therefore, it is also important to understand the many specific measures that help to fully understand your health.

Enter body composition. This refers to the percentage of body fat, bone, water and muscle. Let's break down these percentages and make an average estimate for each percentage.

Body fat percentage

What it is: Fat percentage is made up of essential body fat and stored body fat. The manufacturer of smart scales, the normal range of fat mass is as follows:

  • 20-39 years old: 8-20% for men, 22-33% for women
  •  40-59 years: 11-22% for men, 24-34% for women 
  • 60-79 years: 13-25% for men, 25-36% for women

Generally speaking, the lower the body fat percentage, the better the health condition. Also, adult men have an average of 18-24% of their body weight as fat mass, while women have an average of 25-31%. The percentage of body fat for athletes may be much lower, ranging from 6% to 13% for men and 14% to 20% for women.

Importance: Men and women with higher body fat percentages are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.

Bone mass

What is it: This is the total mass of bones in the body. According to Withings, the normal bone mass of men is between 3% and 5%. According to the National Institutes of Health, this situation changes as we age and as our bones reach their peak quality in their 20s.

Importance: Low bone mass may increase the risk of fractures. Such as exercise and a diet rich in whole foods will increase bone mass. Increasing bone density helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Total body water percentage

What is it: This is the percentage of fluid in the body mass. The human body has 50% to 75% water, and at any given time, how much you have depends on age, gender and hydration. Most men will have 50-65%; women will have 45-60%.

Importance: Body Impedance Analysis (BIA) can determine the total percentage of intracellular water and the percentage of extracellular water, called extracellular water. Generally speaking, too much extracellular water may indicate heart, liver, malnutrition or kidney disease.

Muscle mass

What it is: The total mass of the body's skeletal muscles. There are three types of muscles in the body: skeletal muscle, smooth muscle and heart muscle. Skeletal muscles are autonomously controlled (think biceps), smooth muscles contract spontaneously (or inadvertently), and the myocardium forms the main tissue of the heart wall. The normal range of muscle mass is:

  • 20-39 years old: male 75-89%, female 63-75.5% 
  • 40-59 years old: male 73-86%, female 62-73.5%
  • 60-79 years old: male 70-84%, 60-72.5% for female

Importance: Higher muscle mass increases metabolic rate and prevents falls and illness. For example, people with higher muscle mass burn more calories at rest than people with lower muscle mass percentages. Higher levels of muscle mass can also prevent diabetes.

Due to insulin resistance, fat mass causes high blood pressure and diabetes. As we age, we lose muscle mass and fall more easily. As is common in older people, loss of muscle mass can lead to loss of balance and strength. This is why exercise is essential.

How can these be measured?

There are many weight scales on the market today that you can buy using technology that can provide you with body composition readings. This technology is called Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA sends a very low, safe electrical signal to the body through your feet. The signal encounters resistance when it hits the fat tissue and quickly passes through the water in the body. Resistance, called impedance, is the resistance used by the device to determine the percentage of your body composition.

Before you focus too much on the numbers, remember that this is only part of the big picture. Make sure you spend your time on healthy daily routines and other aspects of your lifestyle, such as the food you eat and the amount of sleep you get (both factors also affect these readings).

BIA is best used in conjunction with a medically supervised weight loss program. Use the first BIA measurement as the baseline measurement. Over time, you may lose weight, and BIA can be used to determine changes in body fat and muscle mass.

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