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Knowing your body fat percentage and keeping it in a healthy range can do wonders for your overall health. While some body fat is essential, carrying extra fat, even if you look thin, can put you at risk for health problems such as hypertension and diabetes. Healthy body fat ranges vary for women and men and also increase with age. To keep your overall health in check, try to keep your body fat levels within these ranges.
Healthy body fat percentages are slightly higher for women than men because women must maintain a higher percentage of fat to maintain normal menstrual cycles and bear children. The healthy range for women ages 20 to 29 is 16 to 24 percent, according to Vanderbilt Health & Wellness. This range increases slightly for older women, with healthy ranges being 17 to 25 percent for women 30 to 39 and 19 to 28 percent for women 40 to 49. As women reach the age of 50, the lower end of the healthy range increases over 20 percent, with the range for women 50 to 59 increasing to 22 to 31 percent and the range for women over 60 increasing to 22 to 33 percent.
Because men do not carry children, they can maintain much lower levels of body fat and still fall within the healthy range. For men ages 20 to 29, this range is 7 to 17 percent. Men ages 30 to 39 should fall between 12 and 21 percent and men ages 40 to 49 between 14 and 23 percent. The higher end of the recommended range for men never reaches more than 25 percent, with the healthy range for men 50 to 59 being 16 to 24 percent and the healthy range for men over 60 being 17 to 25 percent.
Measuring Body Fat Levels
You can have your body fat measured in a variety of ways. More accurate, but also expensive, ways to measure body fat include underwater weighing and DEXA scans. These measurements are typically done at research facilities or hospitals. A slightly less accurate, but more affordable, measurement can be done using skinfold calipers. You can have this measurement done at most fitness centers.
Achieving Healthy Body Fat Levels
You cannot achieve a healthy body fat level simply by losing pounds. To change your body fat percentage, you need to lose fat and gain muscle. The best way to do this is with a combination of cardiovascular exercise, healthy eating and strength training. The cardio and healthy eating will help you lose fat, while the strength training will help you build and maintain muscle.