What Should Your Body Fat Percentage Be?

Reviewed on 3/18/2021

What is body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your body compared to the amount of muscle and bone. The ideal healthy body fat percentage depends on your age and gender.
Body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your body compared to the amount of muscle and bone. The ideal healthy body fat percentage depends on your age and gender.

Advancements in the field of medical science and technology have brought with them new tools and assessment strategies for maintaining health and fitness. Gone are the days when your scale was the sole decision-maker for assessing your fitness. Although maintaining a healthy weight is essential, knowing what contributes to your weight is important, too. The modern-day concept of body composition tells you about the proportion of fat you have in comparison with the lean tissues such as muscles, bones, organs and water. Knowing your fat percentage is important because regardless of your weight, a higher-than-normal body fat composition can increase the risk of various diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. On the contrary, if you are big-boned or have muscles, your weight may be on the higher side, but you are still more fit than your peers.

What should your body fat percentage be?

Your ideal body fat percentage may vary depending upon several factors such as your age and gender. The healthy body fat percentage according to your age and gender is given below

       Age (years)           Healthy body fat percentage (men)            Healthy body fat percentage (women)      
20 to 39 8 to 19 percent 21 to 32 percent
40 to 59 11 to 21 percent 23 to 33 percent
60 to 79 13 to 24 percent 24 to 35 percent

The American Council on Exercise further categorizes the different body fat percentage levels into the following groups

    Classification            Women (body fat percentage)             Men (body fat percentage)      
Essential fat 10 to 12 percent 2 to 4 percent
Athletes 14 to 20 percent 6 to 13 percent
Fitness 21 to 24 percent 14 to 17 percent
Acceptable 25 to 31 percent 18 to 25 percent
Obese 32 percent plus 26 percent plus

How is body fat percentage calculated?

Body fat percentage is obtained by dividing your total fat mass by your body weight and multiplying it by 100. There are several ways to calculate your body fat percentage

  • Skinfold measurement: In this method, a healthcare professional measures the thickness of skinfold in various areas of your body such as the arm, back of the neck and waistline. Measurements are made by using a special instrument called calipers. These are clamp-like devices that help measure skinfold thickness. They are widely used because they are simple to use and relatively inexpensive compared to other devices. This method, however, is not very accurate because it depends upon how well the measurements are taken. Repeated readings by the same or different people may provide different results.
  • Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA): BIA relies on the fact that water and fat conduct electric current differently. In this method, a small electric current is passed through the body to calculate fat percentage in the body. The accuracy of measurement through BIA may vary depending on factors such as the extent of abdominal fat and hydration of a person and how recently they have exercised.
  • The BOD POD machine: This method measures your body fat percentage by measuring the amount of air your body displaces. It is highly accurate and gives quick results. The machine, however, is quite expensive and requires a certain amount of technical expertise to use it.
  • Dual X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan: This method utilizes low-energy X-rays to calculate the amount of fat, muscle and bone in your body. The DEXA scan gives quick results and considers bone when comparing body fat to muscle mass.
  • Hydrostatic weighing: This is one of the most accurate, but most difficult methods to calculate your body fat percentage. It is time-consuming and requires special equipment. Hydrostatic or underwater weighing involves submerging the person in water to measure their body fat percentage.


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