Healthy Body Fat Percentage for Women
What is a good body fat percentage? Read on…
Your body is composed of fat and ‘lean mass.’ Lean mass includes the weight of your bones, organs, muscles and body fluids. A measurement of your body fat indicates how much of your total weight comes from fat (versus lean mass). A healthy body fat percentage for women depends upon factors such as age.
Main Types of Body Fat: Visceral and Subcutaneous
Having some body fat is essential for life. Body fat is needed to support life; protect organs and cushion joints, among other functions. There are two main types of body fat: visceral and subcutaneous. Visceral fat (or intra-abdominal fat) is located between your internal organs and torso. Subcutaneous fat is found just beneath the surface of your skin.
A healthy body fat percentage (range) for women is higher than the recommended range for men. Women that adhere to physical activity guidelines, particularly which recommend participating in total-body resistance training exercises twice weekly, may be more successful at conserving lean muscle tissue throughout their life. It is a myth that ‘thin’ or ‘normal weight’ women are not overly fat. A woman can easily fall within a normal weight range, per the body mass index (BMI) scale, but have a body fat percentage that exceeds the recommended healthy range. Thus, a normal body weight and healthy body fat percentage do not always go hand-in-hand.
Healthy Body Fat Percentage for Women: Guidelines
There is quite a bit of controversy over the ‘optimal’ body fat percentage for women (and men) for overall health and there is no true consensus. It has been estimated that women have a tendency to gain fat and lose muscle starting at about 35 years of age and every year thereafter. Age-adjusted body fat percentage recommendations for men and women were first published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in the year 2000. According to the authors, when considering the appropriateness of body fat percentage levels, one must take into account factors other than gender, such as of age and race-ethnicity. The guidelines apply to non-athletes.
In general, based upon the guidelines published in 2000, a healthy body fat percentage range for women aged 20 to 40 years is 21 to 33%. For women aged 40 to 60 years, a healthy body fat percentage range is slightly higher, 23 to 35%. Ideally, women aged 61 to 79 years will fall into a body fat percentage range of 24 to 36%. Other sources, publications and websites may recommend percentages that are slightly different or narrower.
Recommendations for Achieving a Healthy Body Fat Percentage
Regardless of age, your goal should be to achieve and maintain a healthy body fat percentage (based upon mass and corresponding to weight) while preserving lean mass, particularly muscle tissue. An appropriate and complete fitness regime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), includes three main components: moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, resistance training and flexibility work, such as stretching or yoga.