A Healthy Living Weight

I have been measuring body fat levels on professional athletes for the last 25 years. Ironically, the purpose is not to determine how much fat they have; rather, it’s to identify their ideal playing weight. Regardless of the sport, every professional athlete has only one goal – ­peak performance. Training a professional cyclist is similar to designing the perfect race car. The point is to have the biggest engine and carry the least amount of excess weight. The NBA player wants to maintain as much muscle mass as possible, until the point where it begins to decrease his vertical jump or first-step quickness.

The main reason I measure body fat levels on athletes is to quantify fat pounds and muscle mass as separate components. The ability to separate these two variables helps fine-tune training programs that impact fat levels and lean body mass. Determining an athlete’s ideal playing weight only requires a simple calculation of adding the two variables together.

Identifying an “ideal playing weight” for an athlete is relevant, but different, than a “healthy living weight” for an individual interested in maintaining general good health.

The connection between being “overweight” and the increased risk of developing certain diseases began back in the 1950’s. Although the evidence of this connection continues to be highly debated, the overall consensus is that there is a negative health risk with being “overfat,” not necessarily being “overweight.” To date, the list of medical conditions shown to be associated with “overfatness” includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers. The key finding is that there are individual differences in the relationship between a person’s medical risk and levels of excess body fat.

My recommendation to individuals whose main goal is to stay healthy is to consider measuring their body fat in a similar manner as the professional athlete, but with a different perspective in mind. While an athlete wants to maximize performance by achieving the lowest fat levels possible, the typical adult should view body fat measuring as a tool that helps minimize the risk of developing lifestyle related diseases.

For example, an individual may be diagnosed with high blood pressure and have a body fat percentage of 30%. This person begins a structured exercise program and changes his caloric intake. A few months later the individual remeasures his blood pressure and percent body fat levels. As expected, both blood pressure and body fat percentage drops. The blood pressure measurement may now be in the healthy range, but the body fat percentage may still lie out of the healthy zone. In this case, the individual has to remember the goal was to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, not to have the lowest percent body fat. Many people mistakenly believe that continued fat loss always results in lowered blood pressure. In essence, the health conscious adult needs to define a “healthy living weight” in terms of health risks, medical conditions, and the effect of being “overfat.”

underwater-weighingThe only drawback with underwater weighing is its limited capability to break body composition into only two components: fat pounds and lean body mass. For example, a 200-pound male who is measured at 20% body fat via underwater weighing knows he has 40 pounds of fat and 160 pounds of fat free or lean tissue.   Today’s new technology has drastically improved, allowing lean tissue to be further separated into bone, skin and muscle weight. An additional advantage of the new technology is the ability to compare upper and lower body segments with regards to these variables. For example, a test can tell a person he has 75% of his fat in his legs, or that his right arm and left leg have significantly more muscle and bone density than the opposite limbs. Quite fascinating!dexa-scan

Other Methods of Body Fat Testing
Today there are many other methods available for estimating percent body fat. It is important to realize that no matter which procedure you use, all measurements can be slightly off. The degree of error pertains to the test’s validity or reliability. Validity refers to a test measuring what it’s actually supposed to measure. Reliability is the degree that a test measure is stable and consistent, produced by retesting. The following should help you compare the validity and reliability of today’s most common methods of measuring percent body fat.

Skinfold Measurements with Calipers

Commonly known as the “pinch test,” skinfold measurement testing is widely used to determine a person’s body composition. The test measures skinfold thickness at specific locations on the body. The tester literally pinches the skin at certain locations and pulls the skin away from the muscles so only skin and fat tissue are being measured. Formulas have been devised to calculate body composition based on the caliper measurements. 

ADVANTAGES: It can be 98% accurate and reliable when conducted by a skilled, trained tester. It is easily performed and fairly inexpensive. Scores are readily calculated by looking at a chart that shows age, gender, and the skinfold measurements.

DISADVANTAGES: Skinfold measurements are difficult to perform when a person has a high amount of body fat. Also, the test will not be valid or reliable if the tester is not skilled or the calipers are not calibrated.


Bioelectrical Impedance
This form of testing is popular, because the testing devices are relatively inexpensive and the test itself does not require a high level of proficiency to perform. The science behind this procedure involves the transmission of a low level current through the body. There are two ways to perform this test, either by placing electrodes on the ankle or the wrist or by standing on a specialized impedance scale. Both modalities are based on the premise that muscle’s high water content makes it very conductive. The basic theory is that the more body water that is present, the higher the amount of muscle per pound of weight. Unfortunately, most exercisers have a tremendous amount of fluctuation in their fluid levels due to sweat loss vs. fluid consumption. It is imperative – with respect to reliability – that pre and post-test settings pay particular attention to the subject’s exercise and fluid status prior to testing.

ADVANTAGES: Testing can done quickly, inexpensively and in the privacy of your own home.

DISADVANTAGES: It can have very poor reliability due to exercise and hydration states.


Circumference Measurements (girth measurements)
Circumference measurements are becoming more and more popular due to the fact that they do not require expensive equipment or a skilled technician. The science behind girth measurements is based on the fact that fat tends to accumulate around the midsection. Consequently, if your circumference measurements increase, you are increasing your body fat. In other words, you can now correlate “inches gained” to fat pounds gained and “inches lost” to fat pounds lost. The calculations to predict body fat percentage can be done using a hand held calculator or online by entering the measurements in inches.

ADVANTAGES: It is relatively accurate and very reliable when performed on populations who are average to above average body fat. The calculations can be easily performed.

DISADVANTAGES: It does not work well on males under 7% and females under 15% body fat.


Stay tuned for our next blog on the relationship between your genetics and body composition. You will learn how and when fat cells are created in our bodies, who is predisposed to be being over fat, and what you can do to maintain a healthy weight irrespective of your genetic profile.


Are you intrigued by this article? Are you interested in learning more about your own genetic profile? Would you like to know how you can improve your health and fitness by knowing more about your genes? Email us: genetics@fitdigits.com.




You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

Testimonial by Fitdigits User Richard M.

I was a mess. My cholesterol and triglycerides were off the charts. My doctor told me that if I did not make a change to my lifestyle I was about become a diabetic. He upped my meds and told me come back in three months for a follow-up.

Richard working out with Kettlebells

Knowing I had to make a change I began to look for ways to change my diet and to begin some sort of physical fitness activity. I had at one time walked off a weight gain and considered it this time too, but it was December and I live in blizzard country. Ironically while thinking my options through when coming back from taking my dogs on a hike I drove past a new gym in my town that uses kettlebells. I stopped in, the trainer there told me that working with resistance was a great way to get fit. That working out with kettlebells, you get two workouts for the price of one, both resistance training and cardio. He also said the first one was free to I decided to try it out. I also cut all wheat out of my diet in order to get my carb intake and high triglyceride count under control. My goal was to have things on their way to “normal” for the three month follow-up.

I’m a business process guy in my professional life, and I decided that I would take a business process approach to my health and fitness. I believe that in business that “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure.” So I started a food diary, bought a heart rate monitor, and downloaded Fitdigits and began tracking my heart rate and calorie burns during workouts. I quickly realized that a heart rate monitor without Fitdigits is just a strap across your chest. With the assistance of Fitdigits’s Advanced Cardio Assessment, I am confident that my heart rate and calorie burn are as accurate as possible. The ability to “see” my workouts and progress is amazing.

Here’s an example: This was a workout I did recently doing a kettlebell ladder, increasing a bell size each set after working for 8 minutes each with a 30 second rest between sets. Fitdigits captured this workout perfectly. As you can see at the load increased, so did my HRR. The last 10 minutes or so are of me rowing and then doing some cool down stretching.

As I said, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and at the end of my initial three months of working out I had taken my triglyceride numbers from the upper stratosphere down to normal and off medication. My cholesterol numbers had dropped significantly too and my medication was halved and in another three months I would come off all meds. So within six months I went from a candidate for diabetes to having normal blood-work. Oh ya, and I lost 40 pounds and dropped my body fat percentage by 25%.

So take my advice and measure what you want to manage fitness-wise. They say that weight loss happens 70% in the kitchen and 30% in the gym. I can tell you that I am making the most out of my gym time thanks to Fitdigits.

I lost Over 55 Pounds and Still Going with Fitdigits and Fitbit

Testimonial by Lisa B.

In January 2011, I decided that I really needed to do something about my weight. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I was 260 pounds and only 5 feet 2 inches. I was huge to say the least. So, started trying to watch what I ate and started walking on January 28, 2011. I had only lost 10 pounds by June. But I was trying…

I was talking with a co-worker about my struggles losing weight because his doctor had told him he had to lose weight. He had been searching the internet and told me about a site he found called Fitdigits.com. He was thinking about getting it for his iPhone. Well, I was already walking and trying to track my eating, I thought that Fitdigits would get me going in the right direction. I got the Fitdigits and off I went.

Little did I know how motivated Fitdigits would get me. With buying the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor and Fitdigits Connect ANT+ Dongle, I was seeing the calories I burned and it made me want to do even more. So I thought I should read more of what Fitdigits had on the site and I found my beloved Fitbit. Got my Fitbit on June 20th and I have not looked back. It lets me track my food calorie intake, steps I take each day, my sleep, calories I burned, weight, body fat, and more. This really got me motivated even more.

At the end of 2010 I had brought the INSANITY workout, but had not even tried to do it. Now with Fitdigits and Fitbit I could see the burn and see the calories I was eating and I had lost 10 pounds by July 4, 2011. The same amount I had worked so hard (or thought I had) over 5 months. I have completed INSANITY only twice and I am halfway done with my 3 third time.

The truth is that I have not been a wonderful dieter or change of food eater. I still have my hamburgers and fries, but I don’t drink soda anymore because Fitbit has a place to put the water you drink too! But because of Fitdigits and Fitbit, I have lost over 55 pounds so far and I have worked out over 195 times. This third time through INSANITY I am watching my food close on Fitbit and getting as many steps in as I can, so I can lose more for my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World in June.

The photo when I was in Walt Disney World from 2008 I think I may have actually been 10 pounds lighter then when I started Fitdigits and Fitbit. I always wear my Fitbit during my workouts. Scary, I already look like I might be half the size of my before picture and I am farther from the camera. By the way, my body fat when I started was 54%, I am about 41% now and still going.

As with my iPhone, I never leave home without my Fitbit. I’ve become so addicted to Fitdigits’s app and Fitbit I can’t believe it. Brandon was extremely helpful and responded very fast when my Fitbit went blank and I thought I would go crazy, but it was a very simple fix. Boy was I relieved when I found it was a quick fix, because I was already thinking about ordering another one so I would not have to wait. But I ordered a newer one anyway because it has the stair counter and guess what, now I try to do all the stairs I see too. I like too on the new Fitbit in the morning mine says: “Lisa…I’m ready…” It reminds me to start getting my steps and stairs in and that I need to work out with Fitdigits to get the most calorie burn. I did have an issue, but as Fitdigits has proven, they do reply in as timely a manner as possible and do care about its products as much as I do!

Keep at it, with the help of Fitdigits you can do it and you don’t need a gym!