Guide to BMI: What’s Your Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

You’ve probably heard that excess body weight leads to many health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, joint problems and certain cancers. For that reason, you should probably keep track of your weight and try to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).

BMI is based on your height and weight. In short, it’s  a rough way of telling if you have too much or too little body fat.

However, it cannot be applied universally. For example, a pregnant woman has a high BMI because she’s carrying a baby, while an athlete may have a high BMI because he/she has lots of muscle, not fat.

So, What’s a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

Everyone needs fat in the body to protect organs, to insulate the body, to serve as a source of heat, and for the brain, the nerves, the muscles and other organs to function optimally. The level of fat needed for normal body function is called “essential fat.”

The problem comes when one develops excessive amounts of fat that lead to disease. So, what is the healthy body fat percentage, you ask? Unfortunately, no one has correctly defined the “healthy body fat %.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, there are no generally accepted norms for body composition. What’s healthy for you depends on your age, gender and fitness level.

You can be healthy with high or low percentages of body fat, depending on whether you’re active, have high cholesterol or have high blood pressure. All the same, experts agree that a certain range of body fat percentages is satisfactory for health.

If you have too much fat, you can change your exercise routine and your diet in order to accomplish your fitness and health goals.

Why Women Need More Fat

If you’re a woman, your need for fat is different from a man. In addition to the general roles, your essential fat covers breast tissue and sex-specific organs, and is needed for ovulation and regular menstruation.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says you need a minimum of 10-13% essential body fat, but if you’re a super-fit athlete you can have 14-20%.

ACSM says 20-24% is minimum, that 20-32% is satisfactory for your health, and that 32-38% is ok if you exercise and have no risk factors for disease.

Obviously, all experts don’t agree on what’s a healthy body fat percentage for women.

Men Need Less Fat than Women

If you are a man, there’s not a definite healthy fat percentage for you, either. ACE says you need only 2-5% essential fat, but if you are an athlete you can have 6-13%, and if you’re fit you can have 14-17%.

Generally, 14-24% is acceptable. On the other hand, ACSM says 10-22% is acceptable. Other institutes recommend different ranges. Again, there’s no agreement.

Beware of Visceral Fat

What the experts do agree upon is where fat is stored, and its effect on health. Research has found that visceral belly fat (the fat that surrounds internal organs) increases risks of chronic diseases.

That’s why a man with too much fat in the belly and chest is at greater risk of heart disease than a woman with lots of fat on the thighs, buttocks and hips.

Many Ways of Calculating Body Fat Percentage

Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA)– is a very low-strength electrical current is passed through the body using a handheld device. The device then calculates your percentage of fat. Just be aware that some devices are not reliable.

Skinfold thickness measurement -is the use of calipers by a nutritionist, health coach, clinician or physical trainer to measure fat thickness on specific sites on your body. You can do it yourself, but you may not get an accurate reading. So, it’s probably best to get a friend to do it for you.

A combination of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), underwater weighing and Bod Pod – can be used to come up with very accurate readings. Unfortunately, these methods are difficult to find and very expensive.

Body fat calculator– you or your doctor can take your measurements (in inches) on selected parts of your body. Then input these measurements into an online body fat calculator which then estimates your body fat percentage.

Body mass index (BMI)-is the simplest way of estimating the percentage of fat in a person, but it’s not a one size fit all. Because it doesn’t take into account everyone’s situation.

What’s BMI

BMI represents Body Mass Index. It’s the mathematical calculation of your weight in connection with your height. It’s an indicator of the quantity of body fat.  Similarly, it’s used to determine  whether you’re at a healthy and balanced weight.

For example BMI:

below  18.5 is underweight. 18.5 – 24.9 is normal. 25.0-25.9 indicates a person is overweight.30.0 and above is obese.

Calculate Your BMI (Body Mass Index)

Are you wondering what’s your ideal body weight (IBW)? Although, our notion of the ideal body is largely based on what we see on TV, magazines, etc, you can use this interactive Body Mass calculator (BMI) as a guide to help you determine your ideal weight.

As you can see, you can use this tool to calculate both male and female bmi. Now, while these formulas can’t account for all individual differences that may contribute to your optimal weight, they do provide a good estimate.

The Best Way to Burn Body Fat

If your fat percentage is within the range that’s considered satisfactory, then you’re fortunate. You may want to consider making changes about your body fat percentage if you’re:

A woman and you have more than 38% body fat.A man and you have more than 22% body fat.A man or a woman with high risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

In that case, you have to reduce your fat levels for the sake of your health. There’s no magic formula. The best way to burn body fat is through a combination of diet and exercise.


In order to lose a pound a week, you’ll need to add one or more of these habits to your daily routine:

Reduce your calorie intake by 500 per day while eating foods that supply plenty of nutrients. That means reduce your portions of food, particularly carbohydrates. Skip dessert. Drink purified water and avoid sodas. If you buy take-away food, have a salad instead of French fries with your meal.

Also, it would be a good idea to use a journal or mobile app like myfitnesspal to write down your goals and keep track of your calorie intake, so that you don’t lose control.

Plus, did you know that studies show that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.


In addition to reducing calorie intake, you’ll need to burn excess body fat by engaging in exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (or 150 minutes of moderate aerobics), plus at least two strength-training sessions per week.

For more noticeable effect, try 300 minutes or more of aerobic activity per week. In one study, women who engaged in 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week burned more body fat than those who engaged in 150 minutes of exercise. You can do it!

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