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Women and body fat: It’s OK

Ladies, are you becoming frustrated with weight loss? Have you noticed that men tend to lose weight and body fat faster than you? If so, don't get down on yourself. It's actually healthy and perfectly normal for women to have more body fat than men.

Known as "essential fat," body fat in women is the minimum needed for a healthy, fully-functioning reproductive system. If the percentage of essential body fat drops too low, particularly when exercise is combined with caloric intake, it can cause several changes in women's bodies, including affecting fertility and the menstrual cycle. Low body fat levels can lead to a drop in the amount of estrogen produced, which can lead to other complications, such as a decrease in bone density and a greater risk for osteoporosis.

The American Council on Exercise has the following guidelines for body-fat percentage for women in comparison to men:


Women Body Fat Percentages vs Men
Description Women Men
Essential Fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable Weight 25-31% 18-24%
Obesity >32% >25%


Note that female athletes, such as tennis, basketball or volleyball players have body fat around 22 percent, but runway models may only have eight to 12 percent, which is unhealthy. Due to health risk, models normally have a body fat percentage for "everyday" life, but push really hard to drop pounds just before photo shoot to drop those last few pounds of fat.

You're not off the hook though, ladies. Use these guidelines as benchmarks during your journey to fit bodies and/or weight loss. In addition to monitoring how many inches and pounds you lose, also monitor how much body fat you are losing for the aforementioned health risks.

So how do you calculate your body fat? Take the amount of fatty tissue carried by your body, divided by the total weight of your body. If your body weight is 140 lbs and 50 lbs of her body weight is fat then her body fat is 50/140 or approximately 35.7 percent. Using skin fold calipers is a common way to measure body fat; however, make sure consult a skilled professional. Try the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) BMI calculator online at www.cdc.gov for starters. Enter your body weight and height to calculate.

As you continue to work on your body, remember one thing regarding body fat: Don't obsess over it. Consider these points to be most important: (1) Your blood work and body are healthy and in expectable ranges, as directed by your physician; (2) You have enough energy to maintain stamina during workouts, as well as extracurricular activities you may enjoy and (3) (because we all can be a little vain) when you undress in front of the mirror, make sure you like what's staring back at you.

(Vernon Warrick is owner of Right Now Fitness.)


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