The definition of "normal" when it comes to body fat is relative. "Normal" for an athlete is quite different than for the average man. The range for healthy body fat for most men is between 10 and 25 percent. Where you fall in that range depends on your age, genetics and activity level. Extremely athletic men may have body fat levels below 10 percent, but this may only be in their youth. As you age, you naturally gain fat and lose bone mass. At age 50, a normal, healthy body fat for a man usually falls between the middle and higher end of the healthy range.
About Body Fat
Your body fat percentage tells you how much fat tissue you have in comparison to lean body tissue, which consists of muscle, bones, ligaments and tendons. Some fat is necessary to your health and is found inside organs, such as the bone marrow, lungs, kidneys and fatty tissues of the central nervous system. In men, this essential fat makes it so you can't dip below 2 to 5 percent total body fat percentage without disruption of bodily function. Adipose tissue -- such as that stored under the skin and deep inside the belly -- fluctuates to influence your body fat percentage.
No official recommendations for body fat exist, but general ranges are accepted as healthier than others. Men, even as they age, tend to have lower body fat percentages than women because of women's need to support childbirth and breastfeeding.
Normal Body Fat Levels and Age
As you age past 20, you gain between 1 and 3 percent of fat per decade. You also lose about 2 percent in bone mass per decade. The combination of these two factors means that by age 50, you could have a considerably higher body fat percentage than you did at age 20, especially if you don't exercise to mitigate fat gain and bone loss.
As a 50-year-old man, if your body fat is between 18 and 22 percent, you're still considered healthy. If the percentage is between 22 and 28 percent at age 50, your body is carrying a higher than recommended amount of fat. Exceeding 28 percent is categorized as having obesity; the American Council on Exercise considers a man with a body fat percentage in excess of 25 percent as having obesity.
Even extremely fit 50-year-old men may find it hard to attain a body fat level of 10 to 12 percent found on athletes, but it can be done with focused dieting and exercise. Most highly active 50-year-old men, such as those participating in endurance activities or focused strength training, can achieve a body fat within a fit range of 12 to 18 percent. Body builders, even at age 50, may dip below 10 percent for competition, but this isn't considered normal, and most body builders don't maintain these low levels in the off-season.
Body Fat and Men's Health at 50 Years Old
Having too much body fat puts you at greater risk for chronic disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Body fat percentage can be measured in various ways, including specialized scales, but it is most accurate when done in a clinical setting with body calipers or hydrostatic -- or underwater -- weighing that may be costly or inaccessible.
Men tend to store fat in their bellies as visceral fat, especially as they age. This type of fat makes your belly expand and raises your risk of disease, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A waist size of 40 inches is a sign of excessive visceral fat in men; it won't tell you your body fat percentage, but this measurement will indicate whether you're at serious health risk.
Lower Your Body Fat
Not surprisingly, diet and fitness become imperative in maintaining a healthy body fat level as you age. Adequate exercise, consisting of at least 150 minutes per week at a moderate-intensity pace and two strength-training sessions that address all the major muscle groups, help keep fat at bay. Exercising in excess of these recommendations provides greater results, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amend your diet as well. Avoid overeating and stick to moderate portion sizes of mostly lean proteins, fresh vegetables and whole grains. At snack time, resist processed bars, snack mixes, sweetened cereal and baked goods. Opt for yogurt, low-fat cheese, fresh fruit and nuts instead. Drink water or unsweetened tea, and skip soda as well as other sugar-sweetened drinks. When you manage to create a deficit of 3,500 calories between what you eat and burn with these measures, you'll lose a pound.
- Coach: What Is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?
- Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom: Body Fat Percentage
- American Council on Exercise: What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?
- University of New Mexico: Getting a Grip on Body Composition
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?