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What Is a Good Body Fat Percentage?

author image William McCoy
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.
What Is a Good Body Fat Percentage?
Exercising frequently can help you lower your body fat percentage. Photo Credit: Jonny McCullagh/iStock/Getty Images

More than one out of every three American adults is obese and living with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Being overweight or obese is cause for concern, but it also serves as notice that it's time for you to create a healthier lifestyle. Part of improving your physical health is knowing your body fat percentage, understanding how serious it can be if it's too high and making the necessary changes to your exercise and diet if needed.

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Women Can Have More Fat

A healthy body fat percentage differs among the genders. Women can safely carry more fat on their bodies than men, as women need the extra fat for such reasons as ovulation. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), women should have between 10 and 13 percent body fat for essential purposes. A woman with 14 to 20 percent body fat has an athletic build, while a percentage between 21 and 24 means the woman has a fit body. The ACE deems it acceptable for a woman to have a body fat percentage between 25 and 31, but reports that anything beyond 32 percent is obese.

Men Don't Have As Much Leeway

In general, men can carry a lower body fat percentage than women and still remain healthy. Men need 2 to 5 percent body fat for essential purposes, and 6 to 13 percent denotes an athletic body. A man with 14 to 17 percent body fat has a fit build, while 18 to 24 percent is acceptable. When a man's body fat percentage reaches 25 percent or more, the ACE considers him to be obese.

Do It Yourself or See a Doctor

It's possible to determine your body fat percentage through a variety of methods. The skinfold method requires you to check your fat in several parts of your body with skinfold calipers, while a simpler method involves taking your measurements, in inches, at select points of your body. Once you take these measurements, you can input them into an online calculator to determine your percentage. If you aren't comfortable with performing the test yourself, visit your doctor to ensure your body fat percentage reading is accurate. Another method is the bioelectric impedance analysis, which is often known by its acronym of BIA. In this method, you stand on a device that sends an electrical current through your body to check your fat content. An additional testing method, which is suitable if you wish to determine a rough estimate of your fat, is to measure your body's dimensions in several regions and input them into an online calculator. Many gyms offer accurate body fat testing for their members; check with your gym's administrator to determine if such benefits are available to you.

Improve Your Lifestyle and Health

If your body fat percentage indicates that you need to lose some weight, tackle this mission by increasing the amount that you exercise and cutting back on your caloric intake. Fill your week with around 300 minutes of medium-paced aerobic exercise and two or three strength-training sessions, which burn calories and boost your metabolism, respectively, to help you lose weight. Improve your diet by cutting out foods that have high sugar or fat content, such as chips, soda and cookies. Scale down the size of your meals and avoid all beverages except water.

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