Healthy Body Fat Percentage for Men and Women

“It’s simple, if it jiggles, it’s fat.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Most people don’t know their body fat.

This is as bad as not being aware of how much money you spend. It’s a travesty, especially in the world of health and physical fitness. Why is body fat percentage crucial? It’s the single best indicator of body composition. Anyone who cares in the least about their health ought to know approximately what their body fat is. On the other hand, almost everyone is aware of how much they weigh. Weight is not a quality gauge of body composition. Neither is body mass index (BMI). You can obtain what’s commonly regarded as an average body mass index and have all kinds of hidden health conditions. That is not likely to be the situation with body fat. What is a healthy body fat percentage for men and women?

What do you think is a healthy body fat percentage for men and women?

Short answer: the Athletes ranges in the American Council on Exercise figures below.

• Essential Fat: 2% – 5% (men), 10% – 13% (women)
• Athletes: 6% – 13% (men), 14% – 20% (women)
• Fitness: 14% – 17% (men), 21% – 24% (women)
• Acceptable: 18% – 24% (men), 25% – 31% (women)
• Obesity: >25% (men), >32% (women)

Longer answer (my personal opinion):

A healthy body fat percentage for males is between 6% and 10%. A healthy body fat percentage for women is between 14% and 17%. I would target the lower end of the Athletes range for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that being an athlete is the bare minimum requirement for physical fitness. Next, you can possibly pull off being relatively healthy and fit inside the upper ranges of Athlete, but that’s not what I desire for you. I would like you to become extremely fit and healthy and for that, you should acquire an undoubtedly athletic build. The Acceptable ranges within this chart are unsatisfactory. I was in the top end of the Fitness range for several years and I felt sluggish and heavy. Be a little ambitious. With some hard work, anyone can look like many of the celebrities we idolize in sports.

Does your age impact your body fat?

Theoretically, it will. Your metabolism decreases as you get older consequently rendering it more challenging to keep low body fat thresholds. Frankly, the slowing of your metabolism as a consequence of getting older has a minimal impact on body fat compared to the impact of your all round lifestyle. In short, aging isn’t really a good justification for having a higher body fat percentage. I believe all men and women should target the lower ends of the Athlete ranges no matter what age. Due to a mix of factors, the typical body fat percentage for males and females increases as they age. Therefore, elderly people who hit an ambitious goal and maintain an athletic body fat percentage will appear way more spectacular among fellow people in their age group than younger people will. Case in point: Mark Sisson.

How does a healthy body fat improve your life as a whole?

By maintaining a healthy body fat , you’ll certainly enjoy your life more because you will look and feel better. Carrying extra fat is one of those things you get used to when you’re heavy, but that doesn’t imply that it’s not harmful. Getting rid of extra fat will give you more energy and confidence than you could ever imagine. It’s night and day. My experience continues to be so encouraging that I can’t picture myself ever going back to the days of having extra fat. I’m certain that anybody else who has been through significant fat loss feels exactly the same. It’s like having a digital video recorder or viewing sporting events in HD. Once you switch, you can never return back. Now that you understand the healthy body fat percentage for men and women, it’s time for you to take action!

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About Alykhan Gulamali

I'm an introvert, number nerd, food junkie, personal finance enthusiast, and fitness blogger. I specialize in fat loss and stress-free fitness for busy people.

Comments

  1. I have somewhat very high body fat percentage. It seems that I have a lot of work to make sure I will lower it.
    Eileen´s last blog post ..wedding guitar sheet music

  2. @ Eileen,

    Knowing where you need to be is the first step. If you are motivated enough, you will get there!

  3. Great run down mate. I agree with you 100% that age is not an excuse for a high body fat percentage. In my late 20′s I walked around at about 18-19% body fat. Now in my mid-thirties I walk around at about 9-10% body fat. The biggest factor in relation to your body fat percentage is your lifestyle. Fuel you body with natural unprocessed foods, and get up and move. Not just structured exercise, you need to increase your incidental exercise, get up and move day to day, take the stairs, walk to the shops or get out and work in your yard.
    niko – no eXcuse fitness´s last blog post ..Niko’s Weekly Dose # 24 | Follow My Weekly Fitness Plan

  4. @ Niko,

    Great point about increasing your incidental exercise. This really goes a long way in maintaining a low body fat percentage.

  5. Great points about body fat. Not too many people regard fat as something essential to our body. We all think that if we talk about fat, we’re unhealthy and that’s not right. Just work your body out by exercising regularly and do not strain by working out too much. Yeah, you can be ambitious and opt to be like those athletes but you need to know your own limit. Nice bud!
    Jazzy´s last blog post ..bean bags for kids

  6. @ Jazzy,

    I believe a good exercise routine and strategic eating/calorie cycling can put you in the mid part of the athletes range. Your diet doesn’t even have to be perfect. I agree you should know your limits and not try to overdo things, but once you get in athletic shape, it is somewhat easier to maintain a low body fat if you keep your metabolism high. Thanks for reading!

  7. Pamela says:

    For me, body fat is the better barometer of body composition than weight and appearance. Some people might look fat or simply have a large body frame.
    Pamela´s last blog post ..blu smokeless cigarettes to help stop smoking

  8. @ Pamela,

    I agree body fat is a superior measure to weight. If you have a low body fat, the weight and appearance should take care of themselves.

  9. I definitely agree that body fat percentage is a great indicator of fitness level. But I think finding a reliable and accurate way of measuring this (without spending a lot of money) is difficult. Caliper measurements are good but you need to have someone who knows how to use them. BIE devices are not very accurate. So how would you recommend one goes about finding what their body fat levels are? My recommendation would be to use reference pictures.
    Srdjan-Bloom to Fit´s last blog post ..My 30 Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge

  10. @ Srdjan,

    Reference pictures can be very useful. No one wants to spend a lot of money to track body fat. I’d recommend a BIA scale, which isn’t very expensive. In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss recommends waking up, drinking 1.5L or water, waiting 30 minutes, urinating, then weighing in on the BIA scale. (Not necessarily saying you need to do this.)

    The point is the number itself may not be the most accurate, but if you are consistent with your procedure, you will still be able to monitor trend accurately and for people trying to lose a lot of weight, this is the most important thing. I recommend weighing in once a week on the same day, time, etc.

  11. It is odd how two people can look vastly different at the same body fat percentage due to genetics. I, too, was in the higher acceptable range for body fat for women for most of my adult life (30%) and felt very sluggish and slow. Even though I’m a little older now (41), I’ve managed to get my body fat to 16% and feel infinitely more energized. I can’t ever believe I swore by the scale as nowadays I go by body fat and the mirror.

  12. @ Toni,

    16% is great! I definitely prefer to track body fat over weight because it translates better to how your overall body composition looks. The differences in appearance between two people around the same body fat can also be due to muscle mass. This is especially true with guys. More muscle and low body fat always produces a better appearance than less muscle and low body fat.

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