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Is Your Dad Bod In-Style or Unhealthy?

By | Fat mass, Health

Men have been working out to increase muscle mass for decades. Every generation comes up with new phrases that refer to this phenomenon, such as getting “ripped” or “swole” or “yoked,” as a result of men searching for the optimal physique that has been influenced by athletes, movie stars and other public figures.  In recent years, a new opposing trend has emerged in pop culture known as the Dad Bod. Instead of marveling at the muscular look, celebrities and every-men alike have embraced a rough-around-the-edges approach to the male aesthetic.

The term Dad Bod has been used to classify men who are slightly overweight and don’t possess a sculpted frame. The positive attention this new trend has received could be seen as an effort to promote a positive self-image in men who otherwise may have had some insecurities about the way they look. Society embracing an archetype that is more attainable by a higher percentage of the male population is an uplifting occurrence and allows men to realize that you don’t have to have the perfect body to be considered healthy and attractive. The human body does need a certain level of fat to survive, as fat serves as an insulator for your core body temperature and aids with hormone production. However, with obesity rates higher than ever, it’s important to emphasize weight management and metabolic health, so recognizing body types that are close to the optimal body fat range is a good start to improving general health.

The focus on Dad Bods have provided a positive shift in visual standards and self-image, which is very beneficial for the male population, but they can also promote dangerous habits as well. Here is how you can tell if your Dad Bod is a good look or evidence of an unhealthy lifestyle:

Avoid These Behaviors

Dad Bods are thought by many to be caused by typical “dad” activities: eating a lot, drinking a lot, and exercising very little. You have probably seen on multiple occasions the “TV Dad”, sitting in his arm chair with a big plate of food and a beer, glued to his big screen. Making these activities an everyday routine can be a recipe for disaster on your health. While having the chiseled muscle tone of a bodybuilder seems like a far cry for TV Dad and other regular joes, moderation is almost always the way to go, and achieving your Dad Bod look shouldn’t exclude you from living a healthy lifestyle.

Overeating 

Overeating is a common problem in the present day, as taking in more calories than you need leads to the body storing the excess as fat. Too much body fat leads to a myriad of health issues, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Overeating over extended periods of time can also lead to the development of visceral fat, which is a dense collection of fat tissue that sits in the trunk and surrounds the organs. Visceral fat is harder to get rid of, and often forms as a result of weight gain during adulthood. Its presence in the abdominal region causes the risk of hypertension to increase significantly, especially in younger men. It’s never too early to take control of your diet, as the habits you pick up during your college years can have long-term consequences and build an unhealthy base for your Dad Bod. Limit your caloric intake, and add more variety to your diet to avoid developing visceral fat around your waist.

Lack of Exercise

One way to offset the extra calories and combat the metabolic conditions that can be caused by a poor diet is regular exercise. However, even if you don’t think you carry a bunch of extra weight, a regular exercise regimen is important to ensure that you aren’t skinny fat. You don’t need to possess the muscle tone of a bodybuilder, but skeletal muscle tissue plays a large role in breaking down carbohydrates and promoting other regular body functions. The only way to develop muscle tissue is through exercise, so it can’t be ruled out even if you believe you have reached an acceptable weight.

An easy way to determine if you have solid metabolic health, no matter what body type you have, is to examine your lean muscle mass compared to your body fat. Those with Dad Bods should consider adding an exercise program to their daily routine, especially resistance training, as the benefits are too vital to pass up.

Excess Alcohol Consumption

Plenty of men have enjoyed an ice-cold beer, or two, or three… you get the point. The “beer belly,’ which is often considered the flag for dad bods, is also a common sign of years of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages aren’t inherently unhealthy, as moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women and 2 for men) can actually have positive health effects. The line between alcohol benefiting your health and hurting your health is an extremely fine one, as that second or third drink pushes you into excess alcohol consumption, which brings similar health problems as overeating or a lack of exercise.

The “beer belly” also refers to the collection of visceral fat, which emphasizes the need for moderation, as the collection of fat around the organs is difficult to get rid of, and carries an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome. While a perfectly trim waist does not need to be the goal for every man, avoiding adding mass through too many drinks is crucial to preventing metabolic syndrome and creating a healthy body.

Find a Happy Medium

The magic of the Dad Bod is that imperfections are appreciated instead of judged. Perfection is a goal that can’t be reached, but a healthier lifestyle is easily attainable. In order to have a Dad Bod that is also healthy, you must find a happy medium between positive body image and healthy body composition.

Applying the Dad Bod mindset to your daily choices is a great way to improve your health. Instead of tackling an intense diet, emphasize making a few healthy choices. Pick a smaller portion at your next meal or add some color to your plate with different produce options. With the obesity epidemic affecting populations all over the world, simple methods to improve nutrition can make all of the difference.

The formation of the Dad Bod trend has addressed a troubling side effect of social media, in which individuals work to develop the appearance of a successful life, instead of actually doing the work to create that success. Embracing your Dad Bod means separating the stigma of working out, which is now viewed as obsessive and self-involved. Exercise should be viewed as a therapeutic activity which is used to improve emotional and physical health. Working out doesn’t have to completely transform your appearance. It can just transform your quality of life.

Maintain Your Healthy Dad Bod

You have a Dad Bod, which wasn’t a big deal 10 years ago, but now is the desired look. That’s a great position to be in, but don’t let the trend negatively affect your health. Remember that having a Dad Bod doesn’t preclude you from making healthy choices. Moderation in eating and drinking is key, and exercise is a valuable addition to your daily life. Instead of seeking perfection in your appearance and lifestyle, just appreciate how you look and strive to improve your unhealthy practices little by little.

The Dad Bod trend is an encouraging development in the world of self-image. If used correctly, a positive shift in social norms and overall health can occur. The “perfect physique” should be whatever Bod you have now, but your health and body composition can still be a work in progress. Strive for regular improvement, not perfection. That’s what the Dad Bod is all about.

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Evan Hadrick is a former collegiate track athlete who graduated from the University of Miami and currently works as a track & Field/Cross Country coach and athletic administrator in Dallas, TX. You can read more of his work at StateoftheU.com, where he is an assistant editor contributing sports commentary about University of Miami athletics.

How Body Fat Sabotages Your Immune System

By | Fat mass, Health

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that no one likes being sick.

What if there was something you could do to improve your health and reduce your sick days?

As it turns out, having a healthy body composition contributes to a stronger immune system, helping you to resist minor infections and reduce your risk of getting serious diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

What’s a healthy body composition? Put simply, there are two main areas of focus: sufficiently developed muscle mass and a body fat percentage in a healthy range  (10-20% for men; 18-28% for women).

Unfortunately, over ⅔ of Americans are classified as overweight, with a shocking 1/3 of Americans classified as obese . Americans are on average heavier than any other time in history. There has been a similar increase in heart disease and diabetes diagnoses. That is why the CDC says obesity is an epidemic in this country.

How does this tie back into the immune system and your health? It all has to do with the nature of body fat.

What Happens When Your Immune System Activates

When your body gets sick – due to a bacterial infection, a virus, etc. – the body’s defense system gets triggered, causing inflammation.  This is thanks to your “innate” immune response: your body’s all-purpose defense mechanism that serves as the first wave of defense against foreign invaders.

The infected area becomes red and swollen due to increased blood flow, which can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Think of what happens to your nose when you get a cold. That’s inflammation.

This reaction is caused by white blood cells called macrophages and the proteins they emit called cytokines (this word will be important in a minute). These cytokines encourage inflammation.

You may have not thought of it this way before, but inflammation that’s triggered by your immune system is typically a good thing. That means your body is releasing the appropriate hormones and proteins, activating your white blood cells to start the recovery process, and working to defeat the infection.  If there wasn’t any inflammation, your body would be in serious trouble.

So if inflammation is what naturally occurs when your body’s immune system is triggered, how does inflammation relate to body fat, body composition, and obesity?

When Inflammation Becomes Permanent

When white blood cells cause inflammation, it’s a sign that your body’s immune system is properly functioning. Inflammation begins, white blood cells attack the foreign invader, the invader is neutralized, and the inflammation subsides.

This is how your body’s defense system naturally works. However, white blood cells aren’t the only type of cell that have the ability to emit cytokines.  A second type of cell that can emit cytokines and cause inflammation are adipocytes or fat cells.

Most people know that your body stores excess calories as fat so that you can use it later for energy if food becomes scarce.  

Just recently, scientists have learned that fat is an active endocrine organ, one that can secrete a whole host of proteins and chemicals, including inflammatory cytokines.

What happens when your body keeps adding on more and more adipose tissue?  Cytokines are released by your fat cells, triggering inflammation. In fact, obesity is characterized by researchers as “ a state of low-grade, chronic inflammation.

This means that increased fat cells puts your body in a constant state of stress/immune response. Your body is always in a state of inflammation; your immune system is permanently “switched on.”

Think of your body’s immune system like your body’s crack team of defenders, highly trained and designed to repel any and all foreign invaders.  In this scenario, your adipose cells are like enemy agents planted in your home territory. Their mission is to spread fear of an attack at all times, and they trick your defenders to be on high alert at all times.

As you might have guessed, perpetual, never-ending inflammation isn’t good for the body.

Sabotaged Immune System

Obesity causes a state of chronic inflammation, and this causes your immune system to become compromised.  Chronic inflammation is a serious issue and can lead to the development of minor and serious illness and conditions.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Influenza (the flu)

You may remember several years ago that there was a particularly deadly strain of the flu virus called H1N1.  As hospitals started to fill up with the sick, doctors in Spain noticed something: overweight and obese patients were beginning to show up in disproportionate numbers in intensive care units, and they were staying for longer than people who were not obese or overweight. Increased inflammation due to increased pro-inflammatory cytokines appeared to be a leading factor contributing to their increased flu risk.

Stories like these led  researchers in Canada to analyze the flu records for the previous 12 years, stretching from 2008 back to 1996. They found that people who were obese were more likely to come into the hospital for respiratory diseases than those who were not obese. They concluded that obese people were an “at risk” population during flu seasons due to their compromised immune response.

  • Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of adults in the United States.  Although there are many factors that can contribute to heart disease, recent research has pointed to inflammation caused by obesity as one of the most significant factors contributing to its development.

The main culprits are, again, the cytokines produced by excess fat in the body.  These cytokines cause inflammation of the walls of your arteries, causing damage to the arteries and increasing pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. When you have high blood pressure, it means that your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively, and it starts to enlarge. An enlarged heart is a significant risk factor that can lead to heart failure if steps aren’t taken to remedy it.

  • Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance – the inability of your body to remove excess sugar from your blood. Just like heart disease, there are many related factors that lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes, and obesity has long been associated with the development of diabetes.

However, with the discovery that fat is an active tissue that can secrete cytokines and wreak havoc on the immune system, researchers have been able to show a link between obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Increased inflammation was shown to disturb a whole host of processes and the endocrine system. When obesity and the subsequent inflammation is left unchecked for a long time, it increases the risk of developing insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes.

Who’s At Risk?

A compromised immune system and inflammation aren’t issues that only concern overweight people.

Many people know that being overweight and obese is unhealthy and can lead to serious diseases over time.  Admittedly, poor diet and low levels of activity contributing to heart disease and diabetes over time in obese people isn’t exactly news.

Unless you start to take into account what the word “obese” actually means.

Classically, obesity has been defined by having a high Body Mass Index (BMI), a way of expressing the relationship of your weight vs. your height.  If your BMI exceeds 25, you’re labeled “overweight,” and once your BMI increases beyond 30, you progress into different levels of obesity.

Doctors have used BMI for obesity assessment for years, but unfortunately, BMI has led to confusion by inappropriately labeling people as obese or overweight when they are not, or healthy when they should be aware of their obesity risks.

Obesity doesn’t always simply mean “fat.” What obesity does mean is the excess accumulation of body fat, but what’s excess for you might not be for someone else. It is possible to have a “normal” BMI but a lot of excess fat; this is called being “skinny fat.”  Crucially, skinny fat people share many of the same metabolic risks as people who have high BMIs, including the risk of inflammation and a faulty immune system.

This is why you should look at having too much body fat not only as a problem for people who are visibly overweight, but also for people who don’t have enough muscle relative to how much body fat they have.

One way to determine whether you’re at risk is to have your body composition analyzed.  This assessment method will reveal your body fat percentage, a number that you can use to understand if the amount of fat you have is healthy or excessive for someone of your size.

How To Get Your Immune System Back In Line

Fortunately, because researchers have been able to identify body fat (and particularly, internal visceral fat)  as a major cause of inflammation and a compromised immune system, they’ve also been able to measure improvements when body fat is reduced. The goal to getting your immune system to function properly again is to stop it from being perpetually triggered.

In a study that followed obese patients who lost weight with caloric restriction and bariatric surgery, the researchers observed a significant reduction in immune system activation, which means less inflammation.  This reduction in immune activation occurred before and after surgery, which indicates that surgery isn’t always necessary: just the reduction of fat mass – and specifically, visceral fat.

Improving your body composition through a mix of strategies that promote fat loss and muscle gain can allow you to reduce your fat mass in a healthy manner that doesn’t require drastic measures like bariatric surgery.  Although this process can and will take time, the effects of having an improved and healthy body composition are immense, not the least of which is reducing overall body inflammation and having your immune system function properly again.

Healthy Immune System, Healthy Life

We’ve gone over a lot of very technical stuff here, so let’s go over the main points for you to take away.

  • Excess Body fat sabotages your immune system by leaving it permanently triggered
  • Inflammation caused by body fat makes you sicker and more vulnerable to disease
  • You can reduce and reverse these changes by reducing your body fat
  • Anyone can be at risk, depending on their body fat percentage, not their weight

No one likes being sick, and no one likes having to manage diseases like diabetes that stick around for a lifetime. To help you avoid these problems, one of the best ways to determine if your body fat is excessive and/or causing inflammation is to have your body fat percentage determined.

Once you have your body fat percentage, you can compare it against the normal ranges for men and women.  For men, you’ll want to be no higher than about 20% body fat; for women, try to stay under about 28%. These ranges may vary slightly depending on whichever source you consult, but these are good guidelines and agree with the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise.

If you reduce your fat mass to a healthy range, you will subsequently reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. Having a killer “beach bod” may not motivate you, but what about a healthy body and fewer sick days?

Everyone should see the value in that.

 

Your Metabolism and Your Body Composition

By | Fitness, Health

You probably don’t think about your body composition when you’re thinking about your metabolism. But you should.

You probably think about it in terms of speed: “My metabolism is fast” or “my metabolism is slowing down.”  If that sounds like you, you’re not alone: simply googling the word “metabolism” yields 4 articles in the top 10 all based around boosting/increasing your metabolism for weight loss.

People are naturally afraid of their metabolism slowing and the weight gain they know comes with it. To some extent, those worries are well-founded.

Metabolism is linked with weight gain and loss because of its a biological process involved with energy and calories.  

The Mayo Clinic defines metabolism as:

…the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.

Notice how it doesn’t mention anything about the speed you process your food. That would be digestion.

In medical terminology, metabolism is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the minimum number of calories your body needs to perform basic bodily functions. BMR is usually expressed in terms of calories.  Your Basal Metabolic Rate also has another interesting quality: the more Lean Body Mass (which includes muscle, water, and minerals) you have, the greater your BMR will be.

When we talk about metabolism, we should always start the conversation with how many calories your body needs. But because your BMR and Lean Body Mass are linked, that means any conversation about metabolism becomes a conversation about your body composition.

Your Body Composition Is Linked To Your Metabolism

Why is it that some people seem to be able to eat whatever they want and never experience any weight gain, while other people – even skinny people – feel like whenever they have one bite of dessert it instantly goes to their waistline?

The reason is that metabolism can vary in size.

Take a look at these two body composition profiles, and see if you can spot the difference.

Beyond the obvious differences in weight, the Person A has a much smaller Basal Metabolic Rate than the second.  This means Person B needs more calories than Person A in order to provide their body with the necessary energy to function without losing weight.  Because the BMR is bigger, the metabolism is “bigger.”

Greater than height and gender, the most important factor playing into BMR is the amount Lean Body Mass each person has.  That’s because, as research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, the more Lean Body Mass you have, the greater your Basal Metabolic Rate will be. That is why strength training for muscle gain, which in turn will increase your lean body mass, is recommended as a way to increase your metabolism.

This is why people who are big or above average in weight can eat more than people who are smaller.  Their body literally requires them to eat more to maintain their weight, and specifically – their Lean Body Mass.

OK, you say, but these two people are very different in body weight – of course, the second person will have a bigger metabolism.  Take a look at the two people below, who we’ll call “Jane” and “Sarah”, two individuals who are similar body in age, height, weight, and gender.

Despite being similar in age, height, weight, and gender, these two people have very different body composition profiles.  As a result, they have different Basal Metabolic Rates. Although Jane has a body weight within the normal range (identified by being near the 100% mark), her body composition is defined by having more fat mass and less lean body mass and skeletal muscle than Sarah.

The person below has a lower body fat percentage and more Lean Body Mass – which is why when looking at this person, you’d describe them as “lean.”  Again, because this person has more than 10 pounds more Lean Body Mass, her Basal Metabolic Rate comes out over a hundred calories greater than the person above.

Metabolism and Weight Gain Over Time

Image Source: Flickr

Let’s take a deeper look at what you might call a “slow” metabolism. Far from being an issue of fastness or slowness, weight gain is almost always the result of a caloric imbalance that goes unchecked over a long period of time.

But first, something needs to be clarified – your Basal Metabolic Rate is not the only factor that plays into your overall caloric needs, and it’s not the total amount of calories you need in a day.  There are two other major influencers, which are:

  • Your energy level – how active you are
  • The thermic effect of food – the energy your body uses to digest your food

These taken together with your Basal Metabolic Rate provide your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This is the number of calories your body burns in a day.

BMR is a necessary piece of information to estimate TDEE. Although they’re not exact, equations exist for estimating your TDEE based on your activity level and BMR. These are based on multiplying your BMR with an “activity factor” – a number between 1 and 2 – that increases the more active you are (and decreases when you are less active, regardless of your appetite).

To take a closer look into metabolism and weight gain, let’s take the two people whose body compositions we’ve looked at above, Jane and Sarah, and see what could happen in a real world example and accounting for diet and exercise.

For this exercise, we first need to estimate TDEE for Jane and Sarah, using their BMRs as a guide.  Based on Jane and Sarah’s compositions, it would be fair to assume that Jane does less exercise/is less active than Sarah, so we’ll assign an activity level of “Sedentary” for Jane and assign “Lightly Active” for Sarah.

Using these numbers and multiplying it by the appropriate activity factor, we can estimate Jane’s TDEE to be 1573 calories and Sarah’s to be 1953 calories, a difference of 380 calories.

Notice how although the difference in BMR was a little over 100 calories when activity levels are factored in, the difference in actual caloric needs becomes magnified.

Now that we have an estimate of the calories Jane and Sarah will need/burn in a day, let’s give them calories to take in. Let’s put them both on a diet of 1,800 calories a day – the estimated caloric intake suggested by the USDA for sedentary women between the ages of 26-30.

Assuming that Jane and Sarah both follow the 1,800 calorie diet perfectly without any extra, high caloric snacks or treats, Jane would end each day with a calorie surplus of 227 calories/day. Sarah would end each day in a slight calorie deficit of 153 calories a day.

When you are in a caloric surplus – taking in more calories than you use – and live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you will experience weight gain, specifically, fat. An extra 227 calories a day might not seem like a lot at first – that’s about a single soda -, but over time, a surplus of 227 calories a day becomes 1589 extra calories a week and a surplus of 7037 extra calorie a month: roughly 2 pounds of fat gain per month.

calorie surplus

Bottom line: despite being the same height, same gender, similar weight, and similar ages, because of the difference between Jane and Sarah’s body compositions, Jane will experience weight gain over time while Sarah might experience some weight loss (because of her calorie deficit), even though their diets are the same.  That’s because the differences in their caloric needs, although seemingly small at first, increase to significant differences when allowed to persist over time.

It’s not about their age or anything else; it’s about their body compositions determining their metabolism/caloric needs.

Making Your Metabolism Work For You

Because your metabolism isn’t something that slows down or speeds up depending on things like age, this actually gives you some control over it.  With the correct exercise and dietary plan, you can make your metabolism work for you

  • Improve and increase your metabolism

It all goes back to improving and maintaining a healthy body composition.

Because your body needs more energy to support itself when it has more Lean Body Mass, working to increase your Lean Body Mass can actually increase your Basal Metabolic Rate, which can have a huge impact on your TDEE once you factor in your activity level.

  • Avoid a decrease in your metabolism

For many people, simply maintaining their metabolism or avoiding a “slowdown” (which as we’ve seen, is a myth right up there with muscle turning into fat) is an important goal.

How can you avoid a decrease of your metabolism?

In short: by maintaining the Lean Body Mass that you already have.  That means maintaining your Skeletal Muscle Mass.

Your Skeletal Muscle Mass isn’t the same as your Lean Body Mass, but it is the overall biggest contributor to it. It’s the muscle that you can actually grow and develop through exercise, and increases/decreases in SMM have a strong influence on increases/decreases in Lean Body Mass.

Skeletal Muscle Mass is best developed through strength training and resistance exercise along with a proper diet.  A regular exercise plan that includes strength training and resistance exercise will help you maintain your Skeletal Muscle Mass.

This can be especially important as you age.  As people become older and busier, activity levels tend to drop and a proper diet can become harder to maintain as responsibilities increase.  Poor diet and nutrition can lead to loss of Lean Body Mass over time, which leads to a decrease in overall metabolism – not a slowdown.

  • Balance your diet and with your metabolism

The example of Jane is a good example of a well-intentioned dietary plan that doesn’t match the metabolism of the person practicing it.

Even though Jane has been led to believe that 1,800 calories is right for her based on age and gender, her metabolism doesn’t require that caloric intake, and she will end up gaining weight despite her efforts to eat a healthy diet. In the end, she will probably end up blaming her “slowing metabolism.”

It’s examples like Jane’s that show how important understanding the link between metabolism and body composition is.

How much Lean Body Mass do you have?  What might your Basal Metabolic Rate be?  These questions should be answered first before starting any weight loss or diet program, as well as conversations about metabolism.

The first step is always to get the information you need to get the answers to these questions by getting your body composition accurately tested.  Your metabolism and your body composition are strongly linked, so in order to truly understand your metabolism and weight, you must get your body composition tested.

Muscle and Its Role in Diabetes Risk

By | Diabetes, Fitness, Health

A widely-known but often misunderstood disease is steadily overtaking an increasing portion of the U.S. population. In this country, more than one-third of adults are at a high risk for developing this condition and causes about 330,000 deaths each year. This disease is diabetes.

Diabetes, type 2 in particular, is a condition affecting an ever-expanding pool of Americans. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015. That’s nearly 10 percent of the population! Furthermore, about 90 percent of those people had Type 2 Diabetes, and those numbers are only expected to rise.

The steady increase in diabetes diagnoses is due, in part, to the obesity epidemic. 87.5 percent of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese according to their Body Mass Index (BMI), a simple health indicator based on the ratio of weight to height. However, these findings make it seem like only those with high body weight are at risk for diabetes, and that is not the case. In fact, so-called “skinny fat” people, individuals with a normal or low BMI but a high percent body fat, are at an increased risk to develop diabetes or prediabetes. As you can see, the underlying theme here is that, rather than a high body weight, it is an imbalanced body composition that increases the risk of diabetes. This is why it is important for those looking to reduce diabetes risk or manage their diabetes to understand their body composition.

So what’s going on here? How does your body composition affect your diabetes risk, and can improve your body composition reduce that risk or help you overcome diabetes?

Let’s first take a look at body composition. What is it and why is it important?

What is Body Composition?

The term “body composition” means exactly what it sounds like: the components that your body is made up of. Generally speaking, these components can be simply categorized as fat and fat-free mass. As you might expect, your fat-free mass, also called Lean Body Mass (LBM) is everything in your body that isn’t fat. It includes your lean muscle, organs, blood, and minerals.

The body generally needs a balance of LBM and fat mass to function optimally and maintain positive health. However, this balance is disrupted in many overweight and obese individuals due to excess fat.

Most people think that the ultimate goal for overweight individuals should be to lose weight, but this overlooks the bigger picture. In order to improve your health, get physically fit, and fit into those skinny jeans, you’re going to have to change your body composition. In other words, the goal for overweight individuals should not be to simply lose weight; instead, it should focus on improving body composition by reducing fat mass while maintaining or increasing LBM.

Not only will a more balanced body composition make you look leaner, but it can also reduce your risk of diabetes and other obesity-related disorders. Furthermore, it can have a positive effect on your metabolism.

Diabetes and Metabolism

When most people think about metabolism, they imagine some magical system within the body that allows certain people to eat more food without gaining weight. In reality, metabolism simply refers to the process of breaking down foods in order to supply energy for the maintenance and repair of current body structures.

When you consume food, your body breaks it down into its elemental components and then directs each piece to where it needs to go. It looks something like this:

  • You eat food.
  • Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar.
  • The glucose enters your bloodstream.
  • Your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin (Phase 1 insulin response).
  • Insulin helps the glucose enter your body’s cells so it can be used for fuel, stored for later use, or stored as fat.
  • Since your pancreas has released insulin, it needs more. So it starts to create more insulin. (Phase 2 insulin response)
  • Now your body is ready to start the process all over again the next time you eat.

Seems like a relatively simple process, right? But for people with diabetes, the process doesn’t work the same way.

This is because diabetes is a metabolic disorder. It changes the way your body metabolizes food so that your cells are unable to use that glucose for energy. How? It all comes back to insulin.

Let’s look at that metabolism breakdown again. There are two places where insulin is key: the Phase 1 and Phase 2 insulin responses. Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells absorb glucose to use for energy. Your pancreas releases this hormone when it first detects the glucose from your food, and then it makes more insulin to use later.

In people with type 1 diabetes (T1D), the body does not produce insulin at all. In type 2 diabetes (T2D), the body produces insulin, but the cells can’t use it properly. This is called insulin resistance. Without access to insulin, glucose can’t get into your cells, so it ends up lingering in your bloodstream.

Of course, when the glucose can’t make its way out of the bloodstream, it will start to build up. All that excess blood sugar may then be converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. With this increase in fat mass, hormone imbalances or systemic inflammation may occur or persist, increasing risk for many other diseases or conditions. Diabetes is associated with increased risk for heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, skin infections, and eye problems. Diabetes can even result in an impaired immune system, which, combined with poor circulation to the extremities, increases risk of wounds and infections, sometimes even leading to amputation of the toes, foot, or leg(s). In far too many cases, diabetes creates complications that eventually lead to death.

Effects of Type 2 Diabetes on Muscle

Many are already aware of the connection between high-fat mass and diabetes, however, more recently, researchers have begun to focus on another aspect of body composition as it relates to diabetes risk: Lean Body Mass. Many studies have shown strong links between Type 2 Diabetes  (T2D) and low lean body mass.

A large component of our LBM is our skeletal muscle mass, the muscles used for posture and movement. Unfortunately, diabetes is not only more common in those with less muscle, it can actually have negative effects on their muscle.

There are three main muscle characteristics that T2D affects: fatigability, strength, and mass.

Muscle fatigability refers to the rate at which your muscles become weaker after exercise or movement, and the amount of time it takes for them to recover or return to their full power. Researchers have known for years that muscle fatigability increases with T2D. When people with T2D perform an exercise, their muscles lose power faster than those of a healthy person.

T2D reduces overall muscle strength as well. Even after adjusting for age, sex, education, alcohol consumption, lifetime smoking, obesity, and aerobic physical activity, people with T2D had less handgrip strength than people without it.

Not only do T2D patients have both reduced muscle recovery and strength, they also start to lose muscle mass. In fact, the longer you have diabetes, the more muscle mass you tend to lose, especially in the legs.

As you can see, the raised blood glucose levels caused by diabetes and insulin resistance puts your muscles at a disadvantage for a number of reasons.

How Building Muscle Mass Reduces Risk of T2D

Here’s the good news. You can take control of your diabetes risk by improving your body composition. It all starts with Skeletal Muscle Mass.

Research has shown that increasing your muscle mass reduces your risk of T2D. For example, In a 2017 study, researchers in Korea and Japan followed over 200,000 otherwise healthy people who had no diabetes or prediabetes at the start of the experiment. After 2.9 years, the participants with more muscle mass were significantly less likely to have T2D: Yet another reason to include muscle building resistance exercises into your workout routine.

In fact, exercise is good for reducing diabetes risk as well as improving diabetic state all on its own. This is because exercise increases the delivery of glucose to our muscle cells. When you exercise, your muscles are exerting more than their normal energy demand, thus creating a higher need for energy/glucose to fuel them. In fact, resistance training has been shown to be particularly beneficial for T2D. Larger muscles require more energy, therefore the leg muscles, being the largest muscles in the body, are especially important for glucose uptake and regulation. Therefore, targeting the legs with resistance exercise may improve diabetes risk factors as well as promote physical function. As mentioned previously, those who are diagnosed with T2D often lose the most muscle mass in the legs, making leg day all the more important to maintain and build muscle mass to reduce the risk of diabetes.

Although type 2 diabetics are insulin-resistant, this increased demand for glucose from exercise helps to increase the efficiency of insulin to get glucose into the muscle cells, improving their diabetic state overall!

How to Improve Insulin Resistance with Diet and Exercise

So what does this mean for you? We’ve talked a lot about diabetes and its relationship to your body composition. Remember, people with T2D and pre-diabetes are resistant to insulin, meaning their cells can’t utilize the insulin they need in order to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Eventually, this can lead to a number of health complications and other debilitating diseases. However, we’ve seen that it’s possible to significantly reduce diabetic risk and, in some cases, even reverse T2D. Here are some diet and exercise tips that will help you improve your body composition and get to a healthy level of insulin sensitivity.

If you are otherwise healthy but have low LBM and high PBF

If you don’t currently have diabetes or pre-diabetes, the most important thing you can do to lower your risk is exercise.

In one study, researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III. The survey covered 13,644 adults who were not pregnant and not underweight. They reviewed each person’s muscle mass and compared it to their diabetes status. What they found was astounding.

For each 10% increase in the ratio of skeletal muscle mass to total body weight participants showed an 11% decrease in insulin resistance and a 12% decrease in prediabetes. The results were significant, even after the scientists took into account other factors affecting risk for insulin resistance.

For people with T2D and Prediabetes

If you already have high blood sugar or diabetes, there are still ways that you can improve that. First, resistance training 2-3 times a week can relieve some diabetic symptoms.

One study found that participants who completed a strength training program had reduced their HbA1c levels from 8.7 to 7.6 percent. In fact, 72% of participants in the resistance exercise group were actually able to reduce their medication use after 16 weeks of a strength training program.

Regardless of the type of training you engage in, getting started is the first step. However, make sure you check with your health provider if you have diabetes or any other conditions before you start an exercise regimen.

Takeaways

The major takeaway here is that diabetes is not only a disease that has to do with weight – high body fat and low muscle mass both increase diabetic risk.

The main goal to reduce this risk or improve diabetic state is to improve body composition. This can be done by reducing body fat for those who are overfat, as well as building muscle for those who have low skeletal muscle mass. One study showed that people who increased their LBM while reducing their fat mass had a much lower risk of T2D than people who had high fat mass combined with high LBM, or low body fat combined with low LBM.

What’s next?

The best thing to do in order to have a better idea of your health risks and create attainable goals for yourself is to get your body composition tested. From there, you can make adjustments to your lifestyle to alter your body composition, if necessary, to reduce your risk for diabetes and other conditions. If you already have T2D or prediabetes, focus on losing fat while engaging the muscles with exercise.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how your body composition affects your diabetes risk, and how you can harness the power of diet and exercise to control that risk. A low-sugar, high-protein diet combined with regular exercise, especially strength training, can improve your body composition and improve insulin sensitivity, among other benefits.

So what are you waiting for? See what you’re made of and get started on the path to a healthier life today!

**

Nicole Roder is a freelance writer specializing in health, mental health, and parenting topics. Her work has appeared in Today’s Parent, Crixeo, Grok Nation, Chesapeake Family LIFE, and the Baltimore Sun, among others.

How To Not Hate Dieting

By | Diet, Health

If you’re here, you probably hate dieting. For many people, simply the word “diet” brings feelings of misery.

A “diet” for a lot of people means: “I’m going to develop the self-control of a monk, start eating low-calorie, healthy foods that I don’t like, cut out unhealthy foods that I do like, and starve myself.”

No wonder so many people fail! But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If your goal is to make long-term changes to your body composition, then yes, you need to accept the principle that unless you have some type of medical condition affecting your metabolism, you need to use more calories than you get from your food. This is called a caloric deficit. It’s real, it works, and science has backed it up forever.

"How To Not Hate Dieting": how to create a caloric deficit

But losing body fat doesn’t have to be severe dietary restrictions and starvation. If you make smart nutritional choices, adopt healthy eating habits, and incorporate enough exercise, you can still eat the foods you like, and make long-term improvements to your body composition.

Seriously. Let’s take a look.

You Really Don’t Need To Starve Yourself

extreme portion control diet

Going on a diet usually means eating less than you usually do, but losing the unwanted fat you gained over time doesn’t mean you have to stop eating, skip meals, or starve yourself.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at what happened to a group of people who actually were starved: the participants of Ancel Keys’ famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a brief history lesson: In the 1940s, the Allied powers were pretty sure they were going to defeat Hitler in Europe, and they needed to know how to deal with a starving European continent once the war was won. In order to do that, they needed data on what happens when people starve and are later re-fed.

36 healthy volunteers were selected to go on a yearlong starvation experiment that consisted of 3 months overfeeding, 6 months near-starvation, and 3 months refeeding/recovery.

Did they lose weight? You better believe they did: roughly 25% of their body weight, gone in 6 months.

What happened here? How did they lose so much body weight so quickly? The same way everyone loses body weight: by being in a caloric deficit. However, the deficit the experiment participants experienced was very extreme.

After adjusting their bodies to 3 months of a 3,200-calorie/day meal plan, their diets were uniformly slashed to 1,570 calories a day, a reduction of about 1,630 calories. But they weren’t allowed to just sit around; the participants were further required to walk 22 miles a week AND expend 3,009 calories a day.

"How To Not Hate Dieting": Increase in exercise and extreme decrease in calories

We’ll do the math for you: that’s a caloric deficit of nearly 1,500 calories a day, or 10,000 calories a week.

That’s about triple the caloric deficit required to lose a pound of fat per week, which is an achievable goal.  The starvation diet in the Minnesota study was anything but healthy and came with the following starvation-related side effects:

  • Increased weakness
  • Increased feelings of introversion
  • Increased irritability/impatience with others
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Obsession with food

You don’t want any of these effects, nor do you need to experience them.  A caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories/day has been shown to be effective, especially for initial fat losses.

How you achieve that caloric deficit doesn’t have to be extreme either, which brings us to the second point…

Choose a Caloric Deficit That Works For You

There are two ways to create a caloric deficit: cutting calories from food and increasing your activity level. In the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, both methods were used to create that drastic caloric deficit.  You can do the same (although there’s no reason to go to the extreme like in the experiment). Here’s how:

Calculate the number of calories your body burns at rest, also known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Online calculators exist that will estimate this for you, and some methods of body composition analysis can also estimate your BMR.

Take your BMR and multiply it by 1.2 (this being the conversion rate for a sedentary person. If you have an active job or already exercise and are maintaining your weight, you’ll multiply it by a higher factor). For example, let’s say your BMR is 1631 calories; a rough estimate of your total caloric needs would be around 2,000 calories to maintain weight.  Shave off 500 calories for the caloric deficit, and the caloric balance each day to lose a pound of body fat per week will be around 1,500 calories a day.

Now here’s the part where you get to make a decision by choosing a calorie-reducing strategy that works for you. How will you create this 500-calorie reduction?

You really do have a choice in the matter. In a study of overweight people, participants were made to create an overall 25% energy reduction. The first group achieved this reduction entirely through caloric restriction; the other achieved it with a 12.5% reduction in food intake and an increase of 12.5% in energy use due to exercise (equaling a 25% reduction in energy).

Both groups lost 10% of their body weight and 24% of their Fat Mass, with the researchers concluding that it didn’t matter whether you simply cut calories or cut calories and exercised: what mattered was the total energy deficit.

This isn’t to say that effort the exercising group made was completely useless – the researchers found aerobic benefits to their exercise – or that strength training should be avoided during fat loss since it’s been shown to preserve muscle. What it does mean is for fat loss, you have some choices on how you want to achieve it.

"How To Not Hate Dieting": Increase in exercise with a slight decrease in calories

For example, if you already feel like you are eating very little, cutting 500 calories from your meal plan might be extremely difficult for you.  You can make up the bulk of your caloric reduction by increasing the energy you expend throughout the day.

You could also go the alternate route.

"How To Not Hate Dieting": Small increase in exercise

If you think you can the bulk of your calories from your meal plan without with a small increase in the exercise you already do, that’s also an option.

The point is when it comes to weight loss, one size doesn’t fit all, and if you follow a program that isn’t designed for you and is too hard to stick with, the chances you’ll quit are high.

But before you start cutting everything out of your diet that you like to eat…

Choose Things That You Want To Eat and Eat Them

Really.

Don’t just cut everything you’ve ever enjoyed eating out of your life with a buzzsaw.  It’s not completely necessary and can actually work against you.

Think of your daily caloric intake as a budget, and your caloric deficit is the “money” put away for a vacation.  If you stay within your budget, after a period of saving, you get to go on a trip.

So long as you stay within your budget, it doesn’t always matter how you spend the rest of your money. So it is with calories. You don’t have to cut out everything you like to keep your diet, and here are a couple of truths that can keep you motivated.

  • Fat isn’t your enemy

For decades, it’s been common knowledge that a high-fat diet leads to obesity.  Fat used to be at the top of the food pyramid, something that you ate only sparingly.  Well, it turns out that those high-carb/low-fat diet rules may have been sabotaging your efforts for years.

While this doesn’t mean you can overeat fatty foods, this does mean it’s OK to incorporate healthy fats in your diet and still reach your goals. Bring on the avocados and olive oil! (just be careful about the high-calorie foods – you still need a caloric deficit).

  • High-protein diets can make you feel fuller/help you eat less

Often dismissed as a concern of bulky bodybuilders and powerlifters, eating foods high in protein can actually go a long way in helping you lose fat properly.  That’s because foods rich in protein have been shown to have a positive effect on feeling full.

If you include healthier, protein-rich foods in your diet, you might have an easier time sticking to your diet while you enjoy meat, fish, eggs, and other protein-dense foods.

You Don’t Have To Hate Dieting

You will hate dieting if you go about it the wrong way.  What’s the wrong way? Going too extreme on any part of it.

You do not need to starve yourself and then slave away at the gym.  Even though reaching rapid weight loss goals might sound appealing, if you actually go through with it for an extended period of time like the participants in the Minnesota experiment, you can wind up feeling depressed, tired, and unmotivated.  Remember those participants committed to their diet full-time because it was their way of contributing to the war effort.

You can find a nutrition plan/exercise balance that works for you and your lifestyle.  For some people, dieting alone may be effective, but these people more than likely have increased metabolisms because they have a lot of muscle. Trying to lose fat by purely cutting calories can be very difficult if you have a smaller metabolism. Instead, strike a balance between diet and exercise.

You do not need to go on an extreme diet where you skip meals or cut out an entire macronutrient group out of your diet (some people demonize fat; others, carbs. You need both these nutrients).  While low-carb diets have been shown to be an effective plan for weight loss, this doesn’t mean you have to go on an Atkins-style diet and cut out your morning whole-grain bagel. It’s not a sustainable long term nutrition plan and will likely make you feel miserable in the long run without these vital nutrients.

It may take a little bit of planning to find a diet that works for you, but if you’re looking to make positive changes in your body composition and lose fat, bear these things in mind, stick to them, and you will start seeing results!

 

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/97278337-how-to-not-hate-dieting/

How to Make a Fitness New Years Resolution You’ll Actually Do

By | Blog, Health

Raise your hand if you said something like:

“In 2016, I’m finally going to lose weight!”

If you did, you’re not alone.  According to Statistics Brain Institute, a company that compiles statistics on a variety of topics and industries, losing weight was (unsurprisingly) the #1 New Year’s resolution made in 2015.

However, according to the same research, only 8% of people reported achieving their resolution by the end of 2015.  Also not terribly surprising.

But forget 2015.  It’s now into the third week of 2016, and this year is the year that you can actually achieve your fitness/weight loss goal.  It’s completely possible; you just need to go about it the right way.

Yes, it will take hard work and dedication. No, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you enjoy doing (unless what you enjoy doing is surviving on exclusively burgers and soda).  Follow the below steps and by this time next year, you’ll be celebrating the beginning of 2017 with a new, fitter you.

Step 1: Throw Your Scale out the Window

This is key. In 2016, you’re going to part with your bathroom scale. Why? Because it’s been serving you a steady stream of lies every time you’ve stepped on it in the past.

How?

You say that you want to lose weight.  But what is weight, really? It’s really just a number, and seeing a number rise or fall on the scale doesn’t tell even close to the whole story. What you’re actually trying to say when you say you want to lose weight – whether you realize it or not – is you want to lose fat. Pounds of fat.

The truth is: your body isn’t just a vessel that weighs a certain amount; it’s made up of a lot of different things, including fat, muscle, bone mineral, and body water.  This way of dividing your body into its parts is called your body composition.  When you lose (or gain weight), the actual changes in your body that your scale registers as weight changes are actually changes in one or more parts of your body composition – changes in muscle, changes in fat, etc.

Weighing yourself on the scale when you’re trying to lose weight – or worse: weighing yourself every day – can set you up for failure by not accurately reporting your progress, causing you to become discouraged.  Here’s how.

Here’s a profile of someone who is just beginning their fitness program, and is doing moderate to heavy weight lifting as part of their plan.  Here’s the same person, about three months later.

As a result of a proper diet and consistent exercise, this person has lost 5 pounds of fat. But because this person has been building muscle as well, their weight hasn’t changed at all.

If this person’s goal was simply “weight loss,” despite their positive gains in muscle and losses in fat, this person might think that no progress was made.  After months of kicking yourself into shape and being super careful about your diet, a lack of movement on the scale can be extremely discouraging.

This is why you need to focus on improving your body composition – not weight loss.  Weight loss doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what you’re losing and gaining.

Step 2: Learn a bit about calories

“Counting calories.”

For some people, this phrase brings feelings of the purest dread.  Not only do people think it’s a lot of work, but that it also means the end of eating anything delicious.

Fortunately, keeping track of calories isn’t that hard, and depending on what your goals are, you may be able to eat more than you think.  But first, here are some basic truths on calories.

First: let’s get something straight right now – from an energy storing perspective, it doesn’t matter all that much how often/when you eat.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bold text added):

The time of day isn’t what affects how your body uses calories. It’s the overall number of calories you eat and the calories you burn over the course of 24 hours that affects your weight.

It helps to think of your caloric needs like a daily budget.  If your needs are 2,400 calories and you “spend” a 1,000 calories on breakfast, that’s fine – it’s just that you only get 1,400 calories until breakfast the next day.

Second: everyone’s caloric needs are different; so that 2,000 daily recommended calorie intake on the nutrition label? Consider that to be the most general, vaguest set of guidelines that almost certainly will set you up for failure, especially since it was picked in no small part because it was just an easy number to remember, rounded off to the nearest thousand for convenience 1.

To find your individual caloric needs, you need to estimate something called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure – the amount of calories that you burn in a 24-hour period.  Generally speaking, your TDEE has two major components:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the total number of calories your body requires to “stay on” and power bodily processes like brain activity, pumping blood, breathing, digesting, etc.
  • Activity Rate: an estimated index of how active you are over 24 hours

To get TDEE, multiply BMR with Activity Rate. For example, someone with a BMR of 1600 calories and is moderately active (exercises 3-5x a week) would have a total caloric need of around 2,480 calories, nearly 500 calories more than the traditional 2,000 calorie diet.

Use your TDEE as the baseline from how you create your diet.  “Cutting calories” doesn’t mean “starvation” – it means making a moderate reduction in your caloric intake as determined by your daily needs.

Based on what your goals are, designing a diet and knowing what’s an appropriate caloric intake does get a little more complicated, but there’s a complete guide to using BMR to creating a diet right here.

Step 3: Choose 1 Goal (from 2 options) and Plan Your Diet

source: Flickr

In 2016, you’re not going to think about “weight loss” any more.  Instead, you’re going to think about choosing from one of the two following goals: “fat loss” or “muscle gain.”  Both of these goals will have the effect of reducing your overall body fat percentage but achieve it in different ways.

But just one goal – not both at the same time? Can’t you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Maybe. But it will be extremely difficult to effectively do both over any extended period of time.  This is because the nutritional and caloric needs your body requires to gain muscle effectively are different from those when you want your body to lose fat.

  • Fat Loss

If you want to lose fat, you need to encourage your body to enter what’s called a catabolic state – a state when your body breaks down body tissue instead of building it.  This requires you to take in fewer calories than you bring in.

But remember: your TDEE is made of two parts, BMR and Activity Level, so taking in fewer calories doesn’t necessarily (and shouldn’t) mean you have to cut out breakfast completely or something equally drastic.  If you weren’t working out at all before, simply increasing your activity level by starting an exercise program while maintaining your caloric intake may be enough to trigger fat loss.  If this sounds like you, simply beginning an exercise program is a good way to get started.

However, most people will need a combination of caloric reduction and exercise to achieve consistent and healthy fat loss.  How many calories you need to reduce will vary based on your individual body composition and goals.

  • Muscle Gain

You can’t lose fat forever, and at some point you will need to work on developing muscle – or at the very least, work to preserve the muscle that you have already.  This will require a different diet and exercise plan than the one designed for fat loss.  Instead of getting your body into a catabolic state, you’ll want to enter into an anabolic state – a state where your body builds tissue instead of breaking it down.

To build muscle, your body needs resources.  This means proper nutrition – sufficient protein intake is critical when trying to increase muscle mass – but equally as important is eating enough calories.  There is a popular misconception that taking in excessive amounts of protein is the key to muscle gain, but in a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition publication, high performance athletes who failed to meet their caloric needs were found to have limited lean body mass gains, despite increasing their protein beyond their daily recommended needs.

So what is a good estimate of your caloric needs for this goal?  Although nutrition plays a large role in determining diet, from a caloric standpoint, research suggests that maintaining an energy surplus of about 15% is appropriate for developing musculature.  This means, all else being equal, the moderately active person with a BMR of 1,600 calories would want to shoot for around 2,852 calories a day.

Step 4: Plan for a Marathon, not a 100-yard dash

source: Flickr

In a world where virtually every piece of information in all of human history can be searched for in seconds by anyone with a smartphone, people are used to getting the results they want when they want them.  Unfortunately, you can’t expect the same from your body.

That’s why if you hang around enough fitness people for long enough, you’ll eventually hear them talk about a “fitness journey.”  That’s because that’s exactly what fitness is – a journey. It’s not a sprint, and it will take time to make meaningful changes that last.

For example, in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, participants were divided into two groups that created a 25% energy gap between what they ate and what they burned. The first group did this by only dieting (25% caloric reduction) and the second achieving it by splitting the energy deficit by both diet and exercise (12.5% caloric reduction + 12.5% increase in energy use due to increased exercise).

The results were interesting: both groups were able to reduce their body weight by about 10% and their total fat mass by 24%, indicating that for fat/weight reduction, caloric reduction by any means is critical, regardless of how it is achieved.  For a 180 pound person, a 10% reduction comes out to 3 pounds of loss per month, which is less than a pound a week.

This can be challenging for some people – to not see any measurable changes on the scale after a week of diet/diet+exercise.  Even after two weeks, you may only see your weight decrease by a pound, maybe two.  If you’re measuring your weight by just using a scale, this can be especially frustrating (another reason why you should get rid of it).

Plan for the long term, and don’t expect to see dramatic changes right away.  And because you’re planning for the long term, that also means that you don’t need to be perfect every single day.  That’s going to put on too much pressure, cause frustration, and maybe cause you to fail.  That’s why this guide’s final step is important.

Step 5: Let Cheat Days Happen (and don’t feel bad about it)

source: Flickr

That’s right.  Break your diet every once in a while. Skip the odd gym day and go out for pizza and beer. It’s OK.

Didn’t expect that, did you?

But wait! Isn’t this how you “gain it all back”?  You hear stories about people breaking their diets and then gaining 5 pounds or more over a cheat weekend, erasing a month of hard work.

This is where your scale – if you’re still using one – really can screw you up with negative thinking and discouragement.  So you gained 5 pounds over the weekend; is your scale lying?  Not exactly. Yes you gained 5 pounds, but more than likely, it’s 5 pounds of water.

Your weight will fluctuate throughout the day based on what you eat and drink.  If you’re dieting, a pretty common/near universal strategy is to reduce your carbohydrate intake (aka “cutting carbs”).

By reducing your intake of foods rich in carbohydrates, you’re reducing your overall glycogen stores. Glycogen is a molecule your body converts into energy and is a source of short-term energy; as opposed to fat, which is typically used in cases where energy from glycogen or other short-term energy sources aren’t available.

What does glycogen have to do with scales, water, and cheat days? Everything, actually.

Water molecules love glycogen.  In fact, for every gram of glycogen in your body, there will be 3-4 grams of water bonded to it.  Your loading your body with glycogen when you’re eating your carbohydrate-dense food and drinks on your cheat day, and water is bonding to it.  So when you step on the scale the day after, it’s very possible to see yourself gain several pounds in a day.

This doesn’t mean you gained it all back.  Chances are, it’s just water and once you get back on your diet and exercise program, your weight will be back to where it was in a couple days. Watch.

5 Step Plan Review

Let’s review your 5 step plans for a weight loss plan that you’ll actually do in 2016.

  1. Throw out your scale and get your body composition tested.  If your gym doesn’t do it, join one that does. The longer you stick with a scale, the longer you’ll be frustrated.
  2. Learn the basics of calories and find your TDEE.
  3. Pick 1 goal. You can change it later.
  4. Prepare for your own “fitness journey.” Slow and steady wins the race.
  5. Have a cheat day. It will help you stay sane, and it will give you something to look forward to every week or two to keep you motivated.

Good luck!

 

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/84369153-how-to-make-a-fitness-new-years-resolution-you-ll-actually-do/

BIA: Once Flawed, Not Anymore

By | Fat mass, Health

In the world of body composition analysis, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is almost a dirty word.

Although well-known and popularly used in consumer home/fitness equipment, BIA technology has been disregarded for years when it comes to medical or professional purposes.  And for good reason: many early BIA devices had serious design flaws.  Even today, many people immediately dismiss BIA technology as technology that can only give ballpark estimations, even in the best of circumstances.

However, BIA has come a very long way over the past few decades.  So far, in fact, that some bioelectrical impedance devices are now producing results that nearly mirror results generated by DEXA, an industry-regarded gold standard.

Really? Yes, really.

Imagine if you could determine body composition with a device that used technology which had all the convenience of traditional BIA, but combined it with the precision and reproducibility of a gold standard procedure.  Imagine if that device was small enough to be placed anywhere: a doctor’s office, a gym, even a bedroom.  Imagine if that device could track your results forever and illustrate your progress over time.

Today, devices like these exist.

If you haven’t interacted with BIA technology recently, or the last time you encountered it was in a Fitness Science textbook in a college class years ago, consider this your crash course update on modern, 21st century, BIA technology.

Why BIA Gets a Bad Name

Many of the valid concerns people have about using BIA technology stem from outdated, older technology.  If you’re concerned about the accuracy of BIA devices, you probably have very legitimate reasons.  These devices fall into three general groups:

  1. BIA Scales
  2. Handheld BIA Devices
  3. “Whole Body” Impedance Devices

Let’s look at each one to see what the concerns are and where they come from.

  • BIA Scales

When people think about BIA devices that measure body fat, many of them think about something that looks similar to this:

 

 

This is a traditional digital scale that incorporates BIA technology to determine body fat percentage.  To use it, you must enter your age, height, and gender.  Some devices require body type, too. Then, you stand on the scale while it measures your weight.  Once the scale has all the required data, it computes your body fat percentage using BIA technology.

However, the accuracy of such a device has some serious flaws.

First of all, what many people may not realize is BIA scales such as these only send a current up one leg and down the other.  This means that impedance (the metric that all BIA devices use to compute results) is only directly measured in the legs.

The upper body and arms?  Estimated based on the results for the legs.  This means that roughly 40% of your Lean Body Mass is used to determine a body fat percentage that is supposed to account for 100% of your body.

If you feel skeptical about trusting your results from a BIA scale, you’re absolutely correct to do so.

  • Handheld BIA Devices

Handheld BIA devices – such as the ones carried by many gyms – are no better, and due to the relatively smaller size of the arms compared to the legs may actually be even more unreliable.  Those devices operate similarly as BIA scales, except instead of measuring the legs, handheld BIA devices send the current from one arm to the other and then estimate everything from your chest down.

This means that these devices are guessing what your overall body composition is based on the composition of your arms.  This can lead to inaccurate results.  If your arms are the most muscular part of your body but you carry the majority of your fat in your midsection, a handheld BIA device will not be able to account for that.

Because handheld BIA devices don’t just report muscle and fat for the arms and give results for the entire body, these results are not trustworthy. Handheld BIA devices only directly measure the arms. Everything else is just estimation and guesswork.

  • “Whole Body” Impedance Devices

What about conventional BIA devices, the ones that require you to lie down and have a technician attach adhesive electrodes to the whole right side of your body?  Surely those must be accurate.

Just like scales and handhelds, these devices don’t measure the entire body, even though they might appear to do so.  However, instead of completely missing the upper or lower half of the body like BIA scales and handhelds do, these devices operate differently – but are just as flawed.

In the case of conventional BIA devices, four electrodes are placed on the right half of the body.   The current is sent from the arm, through the body, and out through the leg.  This is somewhat misleadingly referred to as the “Whole Body Impedance” method.

Why misleading? Take a look below:

Although “whole body” might suggest that these devices actually measure the whole body, in reality these machines only directly measure approximately half (usually the right side) and then estimate the remainder.

The core problem with these devices is that they treat the entire body as a single “cylinder.”  This means that when the machine is collecting information, it treats your arms in the same way it treats your trunk/torso; never mind that the trunk’s composition is significantly different than an arm (it contains the internal organs, for instance, and contains a greater amount of Lean Body Mass).

This is a problem when measuring fat and muscle.  Although similarities among genders exist, everybody and every body is different.  Men tend to collect the majority of their fat around their abdomen (android obesity), whereas women tend to collect in the arms and legs in addition to their midsections (gynoid obesity).

What would happen if a particular person didn’t conform to these assumptions? False readings and inaccurate results.

The Future: DSM-BIA

For many people, the devices described above are the only BIA devices they are familiar with.  That’s why, including for those described above, people have very good reasons for dismissing BIA technology. 

However, the industry has recognized the flaws in these BIA devices for some time and, in the last few decades, has responded.

Direct Segmental Multi-Frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (DSM-BIA) is a new, modern approach to BIA technology that, for the first time, directly measures the entire body.

Unlike any of the previous methods or devices above, devices that employ DSM-BIA do not leave any section of the body unaccounted for.  In order to do this accurately, the body is divided into 5 segments and the impedance for each segment is measured independently.

Once the impedance values for each segment are known, the device interprets the raw data and translates it into useful values such as:

  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Total Body Water
  • Lean Body Mass

Because all 5 segments are measured independently of each other, this allows for more advanced analyses.  The below example shows the amount of Lean Body Mass in pounds in each segment of the body:

Using a device that employs DSM-BIA technology allows a doctor, researcher, or fitness professional to paint a more complete picture of a client’s body composition.  It allows each segment of the body to be measured independently, just as DEXA does, but does it much quicker and more conveniently than DEXA –a major advantage of using a BIA device.

Why Trust This Tech?

DSM-BIA represents a major improvement over all previous BIA devices.  But in order to understand this technology and be confident in the results, you’ll need a brief overview on the basics of how BIA devices work.

All BIA devices operate by sending a small electrical current through fluid, which in the human body, is body water.  The current enters and exits via electrodes that come into contact with the skin.  As the current travels throughout your body water, it encounters muscle cells, fat cells, skin cells, etc.  Each of these has a certain ability to oppose the current slightly as it travels on its path towards the exit point.

Once the current finally reaches its endpoint, it will have lost some of its voltage on its journey through body water.  From here, impedance is determined.  BIA devices, including DSM-BIA devices, take impedance values and translate them into useful information that people can readily understand, like Body Fat Percentage and Lean Body Mass.

If all BIA devices use the same basic principle, then what makes DSM-BIA different?

Consider the example of the “Whole Body Impedance” devices.  While on the one hand they appear to be measuring the entire body and delivering trustworthy results, on the other, they treat the body as though it were a single tube of water, irrespective of body shape.  This means that the opposing effect that the current experiences as it travels through the body gets lumped together as a single impedance value.

This is a problem because due to the width of the arms and legs vs. the width of the upper body, impedance values actually vary quite significantly.  Impedance values for the arms and legs can be 10+ times greater than those for the trunk, as shown below (TR = trunk):

 


As you can see, the values for the trunk are much, much lower than those of the arms and legs.  A “Whole Body” impedance device would have taken all five of these values and lumped them into a single “whole body” result.  This is where Whole Body impedance gets its name and where it gets its inaccuracy.

As for BIA scales and handheld BIA devices?  A BIA scale will produce results that would look like this:

 

 

The handheld BIA device will only be able to measure the arms:

 

 

You should notice something: neither of them will measure the all-important trunk.  Only devices that use DSM-BIA paint a complete picture, and only DSM-BIA devices will deliver results that stack up against the gold standards.  All other devices can only offer estimations at best.

An Easier, Better, More Accurate Way

DSM-BIA technology represents the future of body composition analysis and BIA technology.  Older BIA devices have major design flaws that limited their reliability and the reproducibility of their results; DSM-BIA technology has responded to those flaws.

By improving BIA technology, DSM-BIA devices blend the precision expected from gold standard devices with the convenience and ease-of-use provided by traditional BIA devices.  It is possible to have the best of both worlds, after all.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/bia-technology/39971073-bia-once-flawed-not-anymore/

How to Tell If You’re Skinny Fat (and what to do if you are)

By | Blog, Health
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on July 20, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on July 1, 2015.
by InBody USA

The term “skinny fat” has been around for a while now, but it seems to have started trending following a feature in TIME Magazine. In it, outwardly skinny and visually healthy people were surprised to learn that they had the same medical issues as an obese person.

Bottom line, looking skinny doesn’t mean you’re healthy if you are skinny fat.

If you’re a little unclear on what exactly skinny fat means, it refers to someone who has a weight and BMI that is normal for that person’s height but has much more fat than and not enough muscle recommended for optimal health.

Many people just assume that if their weight and/or BMI is normal, they have nothing to worry about. This has a lot to do with misconceptions about BMI’s usefulness in assessing weight and health. For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.99, you are considered to be in the normal range for sufficient health. So if you have a BMI of 22, you’re automatically in the clear, right?

Not so fast – although the WHO has set these ranges, they are quick to qualify them with the following:

[BMI] should be considered as a rough guide because it may not correspond to the same body fat percentage in different individuals.

Source: WHO

The fixation on weight, thinness, and BMI is where so many people get fooled into living unhealthy lifestyles. They feel like exercising daily and eating a healthy diet doesn’t apply to them because they look skinny. But looking the part doesn’t always mean you fit the part.

As Long as I Look Good, That’s All That Matters!

If only that were the case.

Unfortunately, that attitude is exactly what causes people to become skinny fat in the first place.  The appearance of being skinny seems to outweigh being fit and healthy. However, because of the way fat can be stored, skinny fat people risk having serious health problems.

Not all fat gets stored under the skin. Fat that people can see is referred to as subcutaneous fat, but there’s a second type – visceral fat – and it’s the worse of the two.  If you’re skinny fat, you likely have a lot of this second type.

Visceral fat is internal fat that develops in the abdominal cavity, gets stored around the organs, and wraps around your kidneys, intestines, stomach, and liver.  It’s sneaky because while it’s easy to see subcutaneous fat, it isn’t so easy to see the visceral fat in your midsection.

Having large amounts of visceral fat can spell a heap of trouble, according to Harvard Medical School.  Visceral fat has been linked with:

So while on the exterior, skinny fat people might look attractive, on the inside, their bodies may be at high risk for a number of health problems and syndromes.

How can you tell if you’re skinny fat?  It’s not as easy as looking in the mirror or standing on a scale. You need to understand what your weight is made of.

It’s Not Just About Weight

How your weight is distributed determines whether you fall into the skinny fat category.  Weight alone cannot tell whether you’re skinny fat or not, which is precisely why so many people don’t realize that they are.

The term “skinny fat” is actually a popular term that describes a very real medical condition called sarcopenic obesity. This condition refers to an individual who may have what would be considered a normal/healthy weight, but metabolically, this person shares many health characteristics as someone who is overweight or obese

A person who is sarcopenic obese will have high fat mass and low muscle mass.

One of the best ways to determine whether you may be skinny fat is to have your body composition analyzed and your percentage of body fat determined.

How to Tell If You’re Skinny Fat

Once you’re able to get reliable information about your body fat percentage, you can compare it against the recommended percent body fat ranges. The recommended ranges for healthy men are between 10-20% body fat, and for women, the ranges are 18-28%.1

If your body fat exceeds these ranges, but you have a normal weight when you stand on the scale, you may be skinny fat.

There are several ways to have your body composition analyzed, all of which come with differing degrees of convenience and accuracy. Here are three ways to measure body composition:

Calipers

Probably one of the most common forms of body composition analysis. Calipers operate by pinching the fat that is held just under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and estimating the internal (or visceral) fat, which is where many skinny fat people hide their weight.

Getting consistent results from test to test can be an issue as well because each test administrator will have a different degree of skill than the person who conducted the test before. Even if it is the same person conducting the test, there is always the risk of human error (pinching softer/harder, etc.) with each test.

So, although this is probably the most accessible way to measure your body fat, it won’t be the most accurate. This is because calipers only actually measure the subcutaneous fat and then use prediction equations or tables based upon your age to guess the visceral fat.

Clinical Tests

It is possible to have your body composition determined in a clinical setting using tests and procedures such as hydrostatic weighing and dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). However, these procedures both require specialized equipment, and in the case of DEXA, exposes your body to low levels of radiation. Although both of these tests are regarded as being highly accurate, because of the limited access, they may not be the easiest to access for regular testing to track changes in body composition.

BIA Scales and Devices

BIA devices are devices that use small electric currents to measure body composition. These are the body composition results of someone who fits the skinny fat/sarcopenic obese body profile:

Below are results from an InBody Test, a medical body composition analyzer:

This section is taken from the InBody Result Sheet. 

For this person, who is a 5’4” female, 135.3 pounds is just above her ideal weight, but within what is considered normal (BMI 23.2).  However, it’s clear to see that this person does not have enough Skeletal Muscle Mass and has excessive body fat. If you do the math, this person has a body fat percentage of 35.0%. This surpasses all upper limits of percent body fat ranges, which are usually around 28%.

BIA devices are quick, easy to use, and depending on the manufacturer, can be quite accurate in determining body composition results for all areas of the body – including the abdominal area, where visceral fat builds up over time.

Visceral Fat area over 100 square meters increases the risk for metabolic syndrome.

When using a BIA device, it’s important to look into how the device you are using determines body composition and how accurate its results are.  Some handheld devices may only directly measure your arms and estimate the remainder, while others may only directly measure your legs and estimate the upper body.  Whenever possible, use a BIA device that directly measures the entire body for the most accurate results.

If you find out you are skinny fat through body composition, the next step is to figure out how to improve.

How Do People Become Skinny Fat?

Image Credit: LifeSpan

First, you need to understand how you may have become skinny fat.

Essentially, the net result of losing muscle mass (and decreasing metabolic rate) and gaining fat mass due to maintaining the same caloric intake with a lower metabolic rate creates the skinny fat condition.  Diet and exercise (or lack thereof) play key roles here.

Carbohydrates and foods that are high in calories are great for creating energy potential in the body, but if that energy is not used through activity and exercise, it will become stored in the body as fat.

Similarly, muscle mass decreases over time when the muscles are not being used. If you work in a 9-5 job that requires you to be seated and not move around for most of the day, skeletal muscle mass is likely to decrease over time.  Fat mass will also increase as mobility decreases.

Sitting all day, eating an unhealthy diet, and skipping workouts is a recipe for muscle loss and fat gain.  Many people have sedentary lifestyles due to work and are prime candidates for muscle loss and fat gain if they don’t do anything to guard against it.

However, this isn’t the only way muscle loss and fat gain can occur.

Michael Matthews over at Muscle For Life, in an exceptionally well-researched piece, has another take on how people become skinny fat. Instead of losing muscle because they don’t exercise, he shows that people can lose muscle because they don’t diet and exercise the right way:

Conventional weight loss advice:

  1. Severe calorie restriction
  2. Excessive amounts of cardio
  3. Minimal weightlifting with an emphasis on high-rep training
Source: Muscle For Life

If you try to cut calories, while at the same time run on a treadmill an 1 hour a day 5 days a week, your body may not have the energy it needs to perform.  After a certain point, your body will start metabolizing muscle because it needs energy once the other options are exhausted. Weight loss will occur at the expense of both fat and muscle loss, which will do very little to improve body fat percentage and becoming less skinny fat.

Now that you understand the cause, here is the solution.

How To Overcome Being Skinny Fat

It all goes back to improving your body composition.

People who want to be thin and healthy need to increase their muscle mass and reduce their fat mass.  

This can be done in a number of ways, such as eating a protein-rich diet, but one of the best ways is to increase Skeletal Muscle Mass from weight training that focuses on heavy, compound exercises.

Why weight training?  Lifting heavy weights is the best way to increase muscle growth, and correspondingly, Lean Body Mass.

With increased lean body mass, your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) increases. In plain speech, the higher your BMR, the more calories your body naturally burns when it is doing nothing (i.e. sleeping).  The more calories you burn at rest, the greater the fat loss.

If you are worried that building muscle might make you look bulky instead of skinny, don’t!  Muscle is much denser than fat, meaning that if you weighed the same as you do now, but you had more muscle than fat, you would actually appear thinner.  Except in this thin body, you would be healthier.

Most people don’t know that muscle is also heavier than fat.  So, perhaps ironically, if you were to increase your muscle/Lean Body Mass to the point where you were able to reduce your body fat percentage significantly, you may actually weigh more than you did when you had a skinny fat body.

This is why understanding your body composition is so important.  If you were just measuring your weight with a scale and judging your appearance in the mirror, you may have never known you were potentially at risk for health problems.

Also, misunderstandings about building muscle/gaining weight due to muscle may have led you to avoid strength training altogether and instead focused on insane levels of cardio coupled with calorie restriction. This is how many people become skinny fat in the first place.

So, now you know the facts.  Just because someone looks skinny, don’t just assume they are healthy.  Don’t aspire to be skinny, aspire to be healthy.  Because at the end of the day, being healthy is always attractive.


Why You Need to Know Your Body Fat Percentage

By | Blog, Body Composition, Health
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 1, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on April 20, 2016
by InBody USA

 

Do you know what your body fat percentage is, right now?

What range is considered ideal for your gender?

Or why you should even care?

Your body fat percentage is a value that tells you how much of your body weight is made up of fat.  In terms of your overall health, your body fat percentage can be one of the most useful numbers available to you, more than how much you weigh and even more than your Body Mass Index (BMI).

You might argue that you can just rely on visual appearance, everyone knows what an overweight or obese person looks like. When you get to that point, you know you need to start making a change in your lifestyle. Unfortunately, once you get to the overweight/obese stage your risk for developing health complications will have increased and weight loss becomes difficult.

If you are interested in developing or maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle, measuring and understanding your body fat percentage is incredibly important.  

Here are three reasons why understanding your body fat percentage can positively impact your life.

#1 Get The Context Of Your Weight

Knowing how much you weigh tells you very little because two people can have the same weight but have completely different body compositions and health risks. Your body fat percentage (PBF) puts your weight into context, telling you far more about yourself than how heavy you are.

Here are the body compositions of three types of people, all around the same weight (~154 pounds) and height (5’10”). To make each of these easier to talk about later, we’ll give them each a fictitious name.

Bill has a body weight of 154.0 pounds and a PBF of 28.3%. Notice the large differences between the bar for Body Fat Mass (BFM) and SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass). Because of this very large difference, Bill likely falls into the category of what is popularly calledskinny fat.”

Ted has a nearly identical weight to Bill – less than half a pound in difference – but has a PBF of 15.6%, almost 13% less than Bill! This is because, unlike Bill, Ted has average amounts of muscle and fat for a 5’10” person.

Within about a pound of both Bill and Ted is Brian, with a body weight of 154.8 and a PBF of 10.1%.  The bars for his SMM and Body Fat Mass are the complete inverse of Bill, who had a skinny fat composition.

Now it’s true that even without these charts, it would be quite obvious to tell skinny fat Bill from athletic Brian just by looking at them.

However, the more extreme examples of Bill and Brian are helpful to illustrate how three individuals with roughly the same scale weight and BMI can have wildly different body compositions— something that scale cannot reveal.

Of the three individuals, Bill stands to be the most at risk for health problems because of his high PBF and low muscle mass, but especially so because his weight and BMI are considered normal. Bill may not be aware that he has increased risk for developing health complication, because visually he looks fine.

Without the context body fat percentage provides, it’s very difficult to understand what your weight means when you stand on a scale and whether or not you should consider making changes to improve your body composition.

#2 Decide How To Start Improving

man stretching

Understanding your body fat percentage helps you decide which of the two goals that reflect healthy body composition changes – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should be working on.

It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.

  • For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
  • For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy

These ranges may vary depending on who your source is. The American College of Sports Medicine has ranges that may differ from the Mayo Clinic (more on that later in the next section)

Knowing where your body fat percentage falls in these ranges can be very helpful for you to decide how to improve your overall composition.

For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.

Now, while strength training can be healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on bulking up and developing huge muscles may not be the best method for improving the body composition of someone who is overweight. That’s because the diet that encourages muscle mass growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).

This person would benefit from a more conventional weight loss strategy. While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type, results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.

For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.

Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on strength training to build muscle, not losing fat.

The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle.  While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat mass they carry.

#3: Reduce The Risk of Heart Disease

healthy heart pulse

Understanding your body fat percentage has uses outside of fitness, too. Keeping your body fat percentage at a healthy level can help reduce your likelihood of getting serious health risks, specifically, heart disease.

Heart disease is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This occurs when small pieces of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) damage your arteries, causing them to harden, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.

What does body fat have to do with your heart? Quite a lot, actually.

According to new research published by the Mayo Clinic, having a healthy body fat percentage has a significant effect on your cholesterol levels – increasing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) which helps to remove the damaging LDL and lower overall total cholesterol. This means less artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream, which means less stress on your heart.

To be clear: this research isn’t linking this to overall weight or even total fat mass. These positive effects are linked with the amount of body fat you have compared to your current weight. The body fat percentage ranges needed to have this positive effect have an upper limit of 20% for men and 30% for women.

While the research doesn’t suggest that this is any type of complete preventative for heart disease – many lifestyle factors, as well as genetics, play into whether you will develop it or not – it does suggest that you have some degree of control over reducing your risk factor by maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and consuming a diet that promotes healthy cholesterol levels.

Know Your Percentage to Take Control of Your Health

Perhaps one of the best things about your body fat percentage is that it compares you to yourself.

If you just track weight, this invariably leads to comparing yourself to someone else. Even though there could be significant differences in height, muscle mass, genetics, or other factors, all people hear when they talk about or think about their weight is the number.

That’s what’s so great about your body fat percentage. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; the only thing that matters is what that weight is made up of. You could be overweight (and even have a BMI that tells you that) but if you’re a woman with a healthy body fat percentage of 25%, why care?

To take control of your health and fitness and gain the positive benefits of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the first step is to get your body composition measured.  Find a facility near you that offers body composition testing, get your body fat percentage, and start tracking it to start living better!

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