If you’ve ever tried to squeeze into a too-tight pair of jeans or wrestle your lumps and bumps into shapewear, you might feel that body fat is the bane of your existence. Body fat is responsible for the spare tire around your middle, the saddlebags on your sides and the pocket of pudge bulging up over your bra. Although some body fat is crucial for healthy body functioning, too much can make you quite uncomfortable -- and put stress on your organs.
The ideal body fat percentage for men and women is quite different. Women need a bit more body cushioning to allow for regular menstruation and provide a healthy environment for growing babies. According to the American Council on Exercise, the average woman should strive for a body fat percentage of 25 to 31 percent -- although a fitness-minded woman might only have 21 to 24 percent, and female athletes can have as little as 14 to 20 percent.
The ideal body fat percentage is lower for men. ACE recommends an ideal average body fat percentage of just 18 to 24 percent. Male athletes might have percentages as low as 6 to 13 percent body fat, whereas male fitness enthusiasts should have about 14 to 17 percent body fat.
Body Fat Loss
You’ve probably heard the standard rule that you should lose no more than 1 or 2 pounds per week -- but that rule is meaningless if you’re focusing on shedding body fat. ACE explains that no official guidelines for losing body fat have been published. To keep your body safe and healthy, the council recommends losing only about 1 percent of your body fat per month.
Losing body fat can be a complex and often frustrating task because you can’t guarantee that your efforts will whittle away your spare tire or thin out your thighs. Adopt a healthy diet and incorporate both cardiovascular and resistance training exercises into your daily routine. Losing weight from all over your body will help you achieve your ideal body fat percentage. Use specific exercises to target your problem areas, keeping in mind that those toning exercises won’t make much of a difference if you aren’t losing weight. A lean, toned muscle under a thick layer of fat still looks like fat.
Measuring Body Fat
Getting an accurate measure of your body fat can be just as tricky as losing your love handles. A number of measurement techniques exist, but many of them are are prone to error, and the most accurate techniques are difficult to determine and expensive to obtain. Easier measurement methods require you to hold onto handles while gentle currents run through your body or have your body fat lightly pinched by calipers. More extensive methods involve sitting on a stool under water, obtaining a full-body x-ray or enclosing yourself in a small pod to measure air displacement.
See your doctor before starting a program to lose weight or body fat. She can help you determine a safe and healthy weight and body fat range based on personal characteristics like your weight, age, height, health condition and fitness level.
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.