Body fat percentage is a measure of the amount of fat in the body as a percentage of total body weight. It is an important indicator of overall health and fitness. A high body fat percentage has been linked to an increased risk of several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. On the other hand, an excessively low body fat percentage can also have negative consequences, such as hormonal imbalances and decreased immune function.
Visceral Fat and Body Fat Percentage
Body fat percentage is an essential indicator of overall health and fitness, and it’s essential to understand how it impacts our healthspan and lifespan. However, not all fat in the body is created equal, and one type of fat that can impact our health significantly is visceral fat.
Visceral fat is the type of fat that accumulates around the organs in the abdomen, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is the fat located just under the skin, visceral fat is deeper and can’t be seen. High levels of visceral fat are associated with a range of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
It’s important to note that body fat percentage and visceral fat levels go up in lockstep. Therefore, individuals with high body fat percentage are likely to have high levels of visceral fat, increasing their risk of chronic diseases.
You can measure your visceral fat at home with some of the newest body fat monitoring scales. While they won’t be perfectly accurate, they will provide a good approximation and can show you how you’re trending over time.
BMI, Height, Weight, and Sex at Birth
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a commonly used measure of body weight relative to height. It is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters (kg/m2). While BMI is a useful tool for identifying individuals who are at risk of being overweight or obese, it has some limitations. For example, it doesn’t take into account differences in body composition between individuals, such as muscle mass and bone density. So, a lean, muscular person would have a high BMI, and that would be erroneously assumed as unhealthy.
Body fat percentage, on the other hand, provides a more accurate picture of body composition. It is influenced by a variety of factors, including sex at birth, age, genetics, and lifestyle factors such as diet, meal timing and exercise.
Ideal Body Fat Percentages
The ideal body fat percentage range for males and females varies based on several factors, including age, sex, and fitness level. Generally, a healthy body fat percentage for males is between 8% and 20%, while for females, it’s between 18% and 28%. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine what a healthy body fat percentage is for each individual based on their unique needs.
Moreover, body fat percentage is a J-shaped curve, which means that excessively low levels are worse than low levels, and every bit above a critical threshold gets increasingly worse. Having a low body fat percentage can have negative consequences such as hormonal imbalances and decreased immune function. On the other hand, excess body fat can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, which has been linked to several chronic diseases.
The Impacts of Body Fat Percentage on Longevity: Healthspan and Lifespan
Body fat percentage has been shown to have an impact on both healthspan and lifespan. Healthspan refers to the number of years an individual can live in good health and without the burden of disease or disability, while lifespan refers to the total number of years an individual lives.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers found that older adults with a higher body fat percentage had a shorter healthspan compared to those with a lower body fat percentage (Stenholm et al., 2014). Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that low body fat percentage was associated with a higher risk of mortality in older adults (Bales et al., 2008). And a 2023 study found a significant association between all-cause mortality and weight loss in the elderly (Hussain, et al., 2023). However, it’s not so simple: the researchers believe that the weight loss is likely an early indicator of a diseased state, as weight loss can precede a diagnosis of cancer, or mortality from cardiovascular disease, dementia, Parkinson’s and others. In other words, voluntary dieting and weight loss later in life, not caused by disease, would likely be ideal for longevity for those who are overweight.
The impact of body fat percentage on lifespan is less clear. Some studies have found that a low body fat percentage is associated with a higher risk of mortality, while others have found no significant association (Fontana et al., 2010). It’s important to note that other factors, such as diet, exercise, and genetics, also play a role in lifespan.
BMI and Hallmarks of Aging
Several of the 12 hallmarks of aging have been linked to BMI and body fat percentage, particularly visceral fat. Mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, altered cellular communication, genomic instability, epigenetic alterations, telomere shortening, deregulated nutrient sensing, and stem cell exhaustion have all been shown to be affected by BMI and body fat percentage.
In particular, mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to obesity and a high body fat percentage. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that obese individuals had impaired mitochondrial function, which may contribute to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Gillum et al., 2008).
Inflammation, which is also a hallmark of aging, has been shown to be linked to both BMI and body fat percentage. Excess body fat can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, which has been linked to several chronic diseases (Hotamisligil, 2006).
Importance of Body Fat for Longevity
In conclusion, maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and visceral fat levels are essential for overall health and fitness. It’s essential to focus on incorporating other healthy habits into daily routines such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, proper meal timing and stress management. By maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and visceral fat levels, individuals can reduce their risk of developing age-related diseases and improve their overall quality of life.
- Bales, C. W., Buhr, G., & Waters, D. L. (2008). Aging, body composition, and longevity: the Biology of Aging Interest Group (BIOAG) position statement on healthy aging involving the measurement of body composition. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 63(8), 810-817.
- Hussain, S., Newman, A., Beilin, L. (2023). Associations of Change in Body Size With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Healthy Older Adults. JAMA. 2023;6(4):e237482. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.7482
- Fontana, L., Hu, F. B., & Klein, S. (2010). Aging, adiposity, and calorie restriction. JAMA, 303(3), 250-257.
- Gillum, M. P., Kotas, M. E., Erion, D. M., Kursawe, R., Chatterjee, P., Nead, K. T., … & Kahn, C. R. (201108). SirT1 regulates adipose tissue inflammation. Diabetes, 57(11), 2982-2991.
- Hotamisligil, G. S. (2006). Inflammation and metabolic disorders. Nature, 444(7121), 860-867.
- Stenholm, S., Harris, T. B., Rantanen, T., Visser, M., Kritchevsky, S. B., Ferrucci, L., … & Newman, A. B. (2008). Sarcopenic obesity: definition, cause and consequences. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 11(6), 693-700.
- Stenholm, S., Sainio, P., Rantanen, T., Alanen, E., Koskinen, S., & Lyytikäinen, L. P. (2014). Body composition as a predictor of healthy and disease-free life expectancy between ages 50 and 75: a multicohort study. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 69(2), 265-272.
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