Why Your Body Composition Matters More Than Weight and How to Take Charge of It
Obsessed with the number on the scale? Here’s why you shouldn’t fixate on your weight, and instead focus on your body composition.
Do you sometimes feel like exercising or dieting is not helping you shed some pounds? Do you notice your arms getting bigger instead of slimmer after a few weeks of going to the gym? Are you getting heavier the more you exercise? Or are you skinny but, dare we say, fat? In such cases, the expression “more than just numbers on a scale” applies — body composition is what you want to focus on to get healthy, not focus on your weight. But what is body composition, and why should you pay attention to it?
What is Body Composition?
Most people will tell you to lose weight if you want to get healthy, but the truth is, it’s more important to be fit. It’s also more difficult to achieve since it requires a combination of diet and exercises that target certain areas — instead of just skipping meals after 6 p.m. Losing a bit of weight is simply the gateway to getting fit, and fitness is the true benchmark of health.
Body composition refers to the percentages of fat relative to lean tissue, such as muscles, bones, organs, and water in the human body. It is considered a much clearer indicator of physical fitness. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), no matter what you weigh, the higher the percentage of body fat in your body, the more at risk you are of obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
The key is to have a healthy fat-to-muscle ratio because muscle and bone density is what helps the human body perform daily activities and prevent diseases. Healthy body composition can also increase energy, maintain cognitive function, and decrease stress.
Exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose weight and achieve a good body composition. You don’t even have to become a gym buff — just 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week makes a lot of difference.
How Do You Measure Body Composition?
Healthcare facilities and fitness centers have different ways of measuring body composition. The BOD POD is an egg-shaped chamber that determines body composition. You sit inside the egg for two to three 50-second testing periods while determining your ratio of fatty mass to lean mass through air displacement. Based on a study published at the University of Utah, it’s non-invasive and very accurate. The skinfold measurement, which uses a caliper to measure the thickness of skinfolds at seven different areas of the body, is also an option.
For personal monitoring, Harvard Health recommends the good old measuring tape, which you can use to measure your midsection and your waist-to-hip ratio. It says the visceral fat that accumulates in this area is most harmful and increases inflammation and diabetes risk. For women, a midsection that’s 35 inches or more is considered high risk. To compute your waist-to-hip ratio, measure around the widest part of your buttocks, then divide your waist size by your hip size. A ratio of 0.9 or more is a high risk.
How Can You Take Charge of Your Body Composition?
Harvard Health states that losing as little as 7% of your total body weight helps lower your risk of heart disease because visceral fat disappears first. Here’s how to do it:
Eat fewer calories than you expend or burn more than you eat.
You want your body to start burning through your fat reserves — the fat that your body naturally stores for energy “just in case.” When you eat fewer calories and exercise, your body burns through these reserves when you’re at rest. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics adds that you should lose weight slowly — ½ to 1 pound per week to minimize muscle loss.
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Be mindful of what you overconsume.
We tend to overeat processed foods such as chips, ice cream, and pizza. Because they have a low protein and fiber content, they don’t fill us up. The National Institutes of Health says that protein is important for those trying to lose fat and gain muscle mass. It’s more satisfying than carbs, and it takes more calories to process it.
It’s also recommended to cut back on alcohol since it can contribute to excess calories. According to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2003, heavy alcohol intake contributes directly to obesity, regardless of the type of alcohol consumed.
Do body composition exercises.
Exercises that make a huge impact on body composition are those that burn lots of calories, targets the core, elevates the heart rate, and works the legs. Burpees, for example, targets the core, shoulders, and thighs. Pushups help strengthen the shoulders and the core. Interval training or changing your speed while running burns lots of calories, even at rest. For those who want a low-impact activity, swimming is a full-body workout that builds muscle mass all over the body.
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The numbers on the scale don’t paint an accurate picture of your health. More than fixating on weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly are more productive ways to better body composition