When starting, many individuals associate exercise with aesthetic goals - they want to become lean and feel confident with their appearance. It may take time for them to realize that, more importantly, exercise is an incredibly useful tool for improving their health and that health is much more than a person’s body fat percentage. Perhaps you can remember the first time you saw a physique that really impressed you, whether it was in a movie, a comic book, a magazine, on the internet, or in person. Perhaps you wanted to look just like them. They look fit, so they must be healthy, right? Well, looks can be rather deceiving, especially in the world of health and fitness. Let’s take a look at a couple reasons why you shouldn’t blindly chase a specific body fat percentage.
Body fat is essential to proper bodily function. Body fat plays a large role in hormone regulation. It’s not just a tissue, it’s an endocrine organ. Excessively low body fat can cause several issues, such as susceptibility to heart problems, low energy, constant hunger, low testosterone, poor recovery, reduced performance in and outside of the gym (if you catch my drift), decreased bone density, brain fog, and decreased immune function. Essential body fat levels are about 5% for men and 12% for women. However, a healthy range is about 10-20% for men and about 20-30% for women.
Body fat is just one biomarker amongst many. Biomarkers are measurable pieces of data that help us to get a good picture of our overall health. Body fat percentage is a biomarker, but there are others that are just important such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. As was touched on in the previous paragraph, chasing an excessively low body fat percentage can negatively impact other important health indicators. Ironically, many symptoms associated with excess body fat are also present with insufficient body fat. For example, a professional bodybuilder who weighs 250 lbs and has a body fat percentage of 5% may look healthy and strong, but is really at a much greater risk of cardiovascular disorder, disease, or failure.
We all want to look good and feel good. Accomplishing both is an attainable goal if you keep a well-rounded perspective of your health and fitness. In many instances, reducing body fat is an appropriate goal that will improve one’s health. However, hyper-focusing on one factor often leaves us blind to other important considerations. Keep a balanced view and you can be healthy and confident!