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Components of Fitness

Body Composition and Other Related Measures

Body composition is the measure of body fat compared to lean tissues (muscle, bone, etc.). It is expressed as a percentage of body fat. Measuring body composition is important for many reasons. It gives us more information that standing on a scale. A scale can only tell us weight and does not differentiate between muscle and fat. For someone who has a goal of weight loss, we want to make sure they avoid losing muscle mass if possible. A properly designed exercise program can help maintain muscle mass. We often see an individuals gain muscle mass while they lose fat. A person who gains muscle and loses fat may not weigh any less on a scale! Five pounds of muscle looks a lot different than five pounds of fat!

What is so bad about having higher amounts of body fat?

It is important to be accepting of all body shapes, but when it comes to a matter of health, high amounts of body fat is dangerous. High body fat is associated with health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Can I have zero body fat?

Nope! Fat plays an important role in many bodily functions. The body needs a certain amount of fat to function and maintain health. Women need more body fat than men, which is why the recommended range for women is higher than men. Here are recommendations organized by sex and age from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Can fat turn into muscle?

Nope! Fat cells are very different than muscle cells. One type cannot simply turn into another.

Muscle weighs more than fat, right? 

Technically, 5 lbs of muscle will weigh the same as 5 lbs of fat, but they look VERY different. Fat occupies a much larger volume than muscle and has a different texture. It tends to be lumpier whereas muscle is smooth in nature. Someone who weighs 150lbs and has more muscle will look very different than someone who weighs the same amount but has less muscle and more fat.

How do I measure my body composition?

Fitness Center faculty can measure your body composition using the InBody tool in the fitness centers. It takes about 5 minutes. If you decide to have your body composition measured in the fitness center, please do your best to follow these testing preparation guidelines so results are as accurate as possible.

Does BMI tell us anything about body composition?

No. BMI stands for body mass index. It is a formula based upon height and weight that can be used to quickly determine is someone is in a potentially unhealthy or dangerous weight range, but it does not provide information specifically on fat and lean tissues. In general population individuals, using BMI can be a good starting point for understanding health. However, for anyone who strength trains regularly and has acquired more muscle mass, BMI may not be a valid measure of health. For example, many athletes are muscular and will therefore weigh more than someone else at the same height. Athletes may have a higher BMI because of this, but their body composition will show a healthy amount of fat and lean muscle.


A Guide to Physical Fitness Copyright © by Jen Hilker. All Rights Reserved.

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