What is a healthy level of body fat?

Ideal body fat percentage varies among individuals based on gender and age. Body fat is essential to maintain life and to support neurological and reproductive functions. Essential fat for men is between 2% and 5%. Healthy body fat percentage for men is between 14% and 17%, although the average range is between 18% and 24%. Anything over 25% body fat for men is considered obese. Women maintain a higher percentage of body fat due to the demands of child bearing and other hormonal functions. Essential body fat for women is between 10% and 13%. A healthy level of body fat for women is between 21% and 24%, although the average range is between 25% and 31%. Anything over 32% body fat is considered obese for women. Body fat percentages above 25% for men and 32% for women increase the risk of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

One thing I want to add is the means at which the body fat is taken. There is much debate over which testing procedure is the most accurate and that is a subject I am not going into but I do want to say that it can hurt much more than it can help if the person administering the test is not experienced in taking body fat measurements.

Many of the scales or hand-held devices are foolproof but sometimes are probably not as accurate. The skinfold tests must be administered by someone who has experience because there is a particular way that skin folds pinches must be administered and nothing can be more frustrating to a client than to have inaccuracies in body fat testing.  

No matter the testing procedure make sure you take it with a grain of salt and understand that if the person administering the test is experienced then all you are doing is looking for a gauge of progress. Body fat testing can vary greatly from test to test.  

Have the same person test you at the same time in the same way and make sure they break down percentage of body fat, pounds of fat and pounds of lean mass. If you test this once a month you can easily identify the ratios of fat and muscle that is changing.

Also use different testing methods like weighing on a empty stomach and circumference measurements on a empty stomach.

Continue Learning about Evaluating & Measuring Fitness

What variables contribute to the success of an exercise plan?
Dr. Mike Clark, DPTDr. Mike Clark, DPT
The acute variables of exercise include: Repetitions are the number of times an exercise is repe...
More Answers
How do medications affect my health/fitness assessment?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
Certain medications may alter your blood pressure and/or heart rate.  It is important for your hea...
More Answers
How can I measure the intensity of my exercise?
William B. Salt II., MDWilliam B. Salt II., MD
Either purchase a fitness monitor or learn how to take your own pulse rate and exercise at least s...
More Answers
How can I assess my activity level?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
If you don’t raise your heart rate  or breathing for a combined 30 minutes, five to seven days per w...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.