Body Fat

'Fat' is a bad word in the world today. Gym memberships are rising day by day; so are the sale of exercycles. Supermodels are becoming thin to the point of disappearing and entire conversations are devoted to the latest diets. And it's all about battling a deadly enemy called FAT. 

You hear people talk about women who have thunder thighs and men with beer bellies. This is because in the case of men, fat tends to settle around their abdominal region. Women, on the other hand, tend to accumulate fat around their hips and thighs. 

But you just can't escape it. It's something that just isn't going to go away. Fat is essential in the human body as it regulates body temperature, cushions and protects the organs and is the body' energy storehouse. 

(Note: Body fat percentage is merely the percentage of fat your body contains).  Thus, if you weigh 40 kg and your body fat percentage is 10%, it means that you have 4 kg of fat and 36 kg of lean body mass that consists of bone, muscle, organ tissue, blood, etc.

So how much fat is enough, how much is too much and how much is too little? The American College of Sports Medicine has laid down recommended body fat levels for both men and women. 

Low: 6-10% fat
Optimal: 11-17% fat
Moderate: 18-20% fat
Obesity: Greater than 25% fat

Low: 14-18% fat
Optimal:19-22% fat
Moderate: 23-30% fat
Obesity: Greater than 30% fat

By these standards, men who have a body fat percentage less than 3% and over 20% would be considered unhealthy. Similarly, women with body fat percentage less than 11% and over 30% would fall into the unhealthy category. 

Factors affecting body fat

The amount of fat in a person's body depends on his/her body type, dietary habits and level of physical activities. 

Genetic body type (somatype)

Body types fall into three basic categories: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. Most people are genetically predisposed to develop characteristics of one of these somatypes with secondary traits from other body types. 

Ectomorph: possesses a low body fat percentage level, small bone size, a high metabolism, and a small amount of muscle mass and muscle size. 

Mesomorph: possesses a low to medium body fat percentage level, medium to large bone size, a medium to high metabolism, and a large amount of muscle mass and muscle size. 

Endomorph: possesses a high body fat percentage level, large bone size, a slow metabolism, and a small amount of muscle mass and muscle size. 

While there's not much a person can do about his body type as it is genetically predetermined, he can do something about environmental factors within his control like his diet and exercise. 

Level of physical activity

Here are some tips on how exercise can help you reduce your body fat: 

  •  Aerobic excercise for 20 minutes, three times a week will improve your cardiovascular system, increase your metabolism, and burn body fat. 
  • Weight/strength training for 20 minutes, three times a week will increase your muscular strength, enhance your muscular endurance, result in a leaner body mass, and will have a favorable affect your bone density. 
  • Stretching before and after exercise will increase the range of motion of your joints and muscles. Increasing your flexibility also decreases your risk of injury while exercising.


Exercise on its own will not make a significant difference in the battle against fat if your diet comprises all the wrong kind of food. Sensible nutritional diets are a must. You need to limit the amount of fat in your diet to not more than 20% of the calories you consume. 

Thin and fat

It may surprise you to know that thin is not necessarily the opposite of fat. A thin person may have very little muscle and a high percentage of body fat. Thus, you can have a thin fat person. 

Less fat is not better as people are prone to believe. Extremely low body fat, in fact, can be bad for health. Low body fat percentages reduce a person's immunity to disease. It can also lead to loss of bone density, which in turn, puts a person at greater risk of stress fractures. Low body fat can result in the disruption or the complete cessation of a woman's menstrual cycle.

Good fat and bad fat

Even fat can be separated into the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys.' The fat that is located right beneath our skin, known as subcutaneous fat, is the good fat. The bad fat is mostly located in the abdomen and around the internal organs. This is called intra-abdominal or visceral fat. The more visceral fat you have, the higher the level of free fatty acids in your blood. Bad body fat can clog the arteries and affect the functioning of the liver. Genetically, men ten to have about twice the amount of bad fat as women. 

Fat cells and muscle cells

Muscle and fat combined usually account for about well over half a person's weight. Men tend to have a higher ratio of muscle to fat than women. A person's weight depends on the number and size of muscle and fat cells. People with more and bigger muscle and/or fat cells will weigh more than a person with fewer and smaller cells. 

We are born with a fixed number of muscle cells. This number remains the same for most of our lives. As a person grows, the size of these cells increases. However, an activity like weightlifting can also increase the size of muscle cells. 

In the case of fat cells, people are usually born with between 5 billion and 10 billion of them. As we grow older, this number increases to about 20 billion for a thin person and to about 100 billion for an obese person.

Myths about body fat

Myth number 1 is that fat can be turned into muscle, or vice versa. Muscle is a tissue and fat is a substance. Therefore muscle and fat cannot create one another. 

Myth number 2 is that if you weigh more on the scale, you must be overweight. This is untrue. Muscle (lean body mass) weighs approximately 75 percent more than fat. In other words, you can increase your actual body weight without increasing your body fat. You can even increase your body weight and at the same time decrease your percentage of body fat. 

Myth number 3 is that the weighing scale is the best way to determine whether you are overweight. In fact, the fit of your clothes and examining yourself nude in the mirror are much better ways of checking that you haven't developed any unseemly bulges. 

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