The short answer is ABSOLUTELY. From the hundreds of patients at my clinic who have decreased their arterial plaque load by 10% or more, losing body fat was one of the most important predictors that shrink arterial plaque. Further, when we identified which lifestyle factors predict your artery age and thickness, body fat was also at the top.
When you lose body fat, it makes you look and feel better, improves your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Whether you want to look terrific in a bathing suit, or you want to live to be 100 in excellent health, controlled body fat is a critical key.
The average American’s body composition is gradually shifting over years from free-range (lean) to prime cut (fatty), accelerating the aging process. Don’t let this happen to you. The first step to prevent this normal shift that occurs with aging is to measure your body composition and ensure you are maintaining your lean muscle mass over time.
Sadly if you want to assess your body fat level, standing on a typical scale doesn’t work very well, as it does not tell you the difference between body fat and muscle mass. To give you a couple of examples: you could gain weight, be healthier, and look sexier if you gained muscle mass, but your total weight increased. Similarly, you could lose weight overall, but gain fat and lose muscle. A typical scale won’t be able to differentiate.
So how do you measure body fat and lean muscle mass separately? There are several ways to this. Keep in mind that your hydration status will change your body fat results by 1-2% easily. When you are dehydrated, your body fat % will appear slightly elevated (less lean water mass) and when you are fully hydrated, it will appear slightly elevated. To measure an accurate body fat percentage over time and minimize changes in hydration, measure yourself at the same time of day, and have a consistent amount of coffee, alcohol, exercise, food, and hydration during the previous 24 hours. Here are tools that measure body fat:
- Bioelectrical Impedance (BEI). This is my preferred method for you to measure body fat. It is fairly accurate, inexpensive, and safe. The machine sends tiny electrical impulses though the body and measures how quickly those impulses return. Lean tissues conduct electrical impulses quicker than fat. If you want to be able to measure your body fat over time with the least expense, find a bioelectrical impedance scale. You can often find them in health spas, high-end gyms, age management physician offices, or you can buy one for yourself. High end BEI scales (like the one I have in my medical office) may cost over $2,000. However, you can find a reasonable bioelectrical impedance scale for less than $100. In fact, I have one of these basic models in my own bathroom and it works just fine. (See below for details on finding a scale.)
- Skin thickness calipers. These are not very accurate, but if done by a highly qualified nutritionist or exercise physiologist, can measure changes in body fat over time. Other methods are now superior.
- Hydrostatic weighing. Although fairly accurate, this is likely more of a clinical research application than a practical tool. It is hard to find places that do this and it is slowly being replaced by other methods.
- DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry). DEXA is a very effective way to measure body fat. You can measure total body fat and trunk body fat too. The problem is that it is expensive and results in an exposure to a very small dose of radiation.
- Air-Displacement Plethysmography. This technique is similar to hydrostatic weighing, but you don’t get wet. This method is highly accurate, quick and easy, but also pretty expensive. The center providing this service typically charges you each time you have your body fat measured.
Whichever method you use, I recommend you check your body fat every 1-2 months. Don’t pay attention to changes unless they are more than 2-3%; often you can see this much variation with changes in hydration.
If you’d like to get a 10% discount on a bioelectrical impedance scale and free shipping, then click this link here . Type in our promotion code: DrMasley2016
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS