Body fat: Tracking and looking for a trend

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Technology has given us many different tactics for both assessing and tracking health and fitness efforts. One useful method is to do so with a body fat analyzer.

Different types of body fat analyzers

There are a variety of ways to estimate body fat, but the most popular devices that you can buy in the store and use at home are called bio-electrical impedance monitors. These are sold at commercial retailers either in the form of body fat step-on scales or as a hand-held version. Either device can provide valuable information to someone who is on a fitness or health journey. A useful hand-held device is available on our website

Body fat analyzer

There are a few issues to consider when using these monitors.

First and foremost, these devices must be used with a sense of knowledge about their value and accuracy. In laboratory settings, they have been shown to be fairly accurate compared to the “gold standards” in the industry. These gold standards include hydrostatic weighing, DEXA scan, and the BodPod. These approaches are usually only available in a few special facilities and laboratories.

While these gold standard methods are the most accurate and give very valid feedback, they are expensive, somewhat invasive, and very impractical for the average consumer. The bio-electrical impedance monitors are an affordable, and under the correct circumstances, a reasonably accurate way to assess body composition.  They are easier to use and usually more accurate than measurements with body fat calipers which were often used for screening purposes before impedance devices became widely available.

Getting an accurate measurement

In order to get a correct assessment of your current body fat reading, you must make sure certain protocols are followed.

  • First, aim to do the assessment at the same time each day.
  • Second, make sure you complete the assessment the first thing in the morning or at least one to two hours after eating food. Taking the assessment when rising for the day will ensure a consistent testing protocol but sometimes this is not an option. If so the one to two hour window is the next best option.
  • Third, be aware of factors affecting blood circulation. In addition to maintaining consistency with timing and food intake, you should realize that circulation also plays a role. Being in a very cold room, doing the assessment after taking a hot bath or shower, attempting the assessment when sick or fatigued, exercising just prior to the assessment, drinking alcohol or an excessive amount of water, or going in a sauna can all impact the results of this assessment.

You can easily see how obtaining the assessment under similar conditions each time, first thing in the morning, may be the easiest and makes the most sense.


How a bio-electrical impedance monitor (body fat analyzer) works

The reason factors like time of day, food intake, and circulation impact the test results is that the technique tracks the impedance (or resistance) of your body to a minute electrical current as it travels through your body. This current is very small and not at all dangerous (unless you have a cardiac pacemaker).

The current travels quickly through water and more slowly through fat and bone. The faster the current goes, the lower your body fat will be. However, since it is calculated based on water, you can see how food and drink intake, exercising, or using a sauna could impact the accuracy of the assessment. Further, how you stand on the scale or hold your arms while doing the hand held assessment can also impact the speed of the current. It is imperative that proper protocol be followed.

Other special considerations when using a body fat analyzer

In addition to these parameters, certain people should be aware of potential inaccuracies when using these monitors. Children, elderly and post-menopausal women, individuals with osteoporosis or on dialysis, or those with extremely low body fat will often have inaccurate readings. However, if you do not concern yourself with the actual number, but monitor the changes you make over time, the tool can still benefit you even if you are in one of these groups.


Tracking changes

Your equipment will come with a description of normal ranges for men and women of your height and age.  Of special importance is the fact that body fat analyzers can be very helpful in tracking changes and improvements to health and fitness over time. As long as you’re consistent in how/when you use a body fat analyzer, you’ll be able to add much useful detail to your efforts for tracking improvement and success.  Add body fat analysis to your tracking regimen to further evaluate your progress with improved lifestyle.  It is exciting to use ongoing body fat analyses, along with measurements of weight, calculations of waist/hip ratio, and body mass index (BMI) to document change!.

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