Many people measure their dieting and exercise efforts by the numbers on a scale or by the way their jeans fit. But some people seek a more scientific way to benchmark their fitness progress. For more scientific benchmarks, many people turn to body fat measurements. Body fat can be measured a number of ways each offering varying degrees of accuracy, accessibility and cost.
1. BMI, and other calculations
The easier and least invasive way to measure body fat is through calculations like the Body Mass Index (BMI). These calculations are based on easy to obtain measurements like weight, waist circumference or sometimes even neck circumference.
Body fat calculations such as these can be useful in providing a vague estimate, but overall are fairly inaccurate. The benefit is that these calculations are easy to do and cost no money.
Calipers are a mechanical device deigned to pinch graspable fat on the arm or waist and therefore provide a measurement of body fat. These antique looking instruments measure the thickness of the skin. The basis of these measurements is the idea that the thickness of the skin is in direct proportion to subcutaneous fat.
This method is also easy to and inexpensive. The drawback is that different calculations are needed for different nationalities. The accuracy of these measurements are subject to the measurer’s technique which can affect accuracy and reproducibility.
3. Bioelectrical impedance
Bioelectrical impedance is a relatively accessible technology. It is increasingly found in newer household scales. BIA works by sending and electrical impulse throughout the body and determining measurements based upon the resistance met by the different tissues. The density of fat, bone and muscle are all different so the different densities determine not only the body fat percentage, but muscle and water percentage as well.
Of the many options for body fat measurement, BIA is probably the best choice because of its relatively low cost, wide availability and reliable measurements.
Hydrodensitometry has long been considered the gold standard for body fat measurement. In fact, it is often shown on reality weight loss shows. Newfitness.com explains that it works by measuring body volume. Subjects get weighed and then weighed again in a pool. Much like other methods of body fat measurement, hydrodensitometry measures the density of body tissues based on the fact that muscle and bone are more dense that fat.
Although the accuracy of this method is touted as being very good, the downside is that this method of measurement is not widely available to the general public.
DEXA stands for Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry. As the website, newfitness.com reports, DEXA is a full body scan that estimates the body fat based on the measurements of bone and soft tissue taken via the scan.
DEXA is now considered the best option for high accuracy, reliable body fat measurements. It produces reproducible results without an invasive or uncomfortable measurement. It is quickly becoming more widely accepted but at this time it can be difficult to find a facility to get these measurements.
Body fat measurement is a great to measure the progress of a diet and fitness program. It is important to take into consideration the accuracy of each method, and its availability and cost in your area. These technologies provide and advanced way to benchmark fitness goals. When choosing a methodology it is important to be consistent with measurements of the same methodology so that results are comparable and can be reviewed for progress.
As obesity continues to wage war on Americans, and the fitness industry continues to expand to meet these needs, the technologies for body measurements are sure to become more advanced and more widely available. With careful consideration to personal goals and needs, a wise choice can be made from the array of valid body fat measurement methods.
Body Fat Analyzing – Comparing Methods for Measuring Body Fat
http://www.new-fitness.com/body_fat_analyzing.html. Accessed 7/9/10.
Home Body Fat Test.
http://www.healthcentral.com/cholesterol/home-body-fat-test-2774-143.html. Accessed 7/10/10.
Measuring Body Fat.
http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/01/02/healthmag.measuring.body.fat/index.html. Accessed 7/8/10.
Park. Madison. Can neck measure indicate body fat better than BMI?
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/06/bmi.neck.fitness/. Accessed 7/8/10.