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Should You Measure Your Health by Your BMI or Your Body Composition?

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Jenny Glasshagel

If you’ve visited a medical professional in the last few decades, you’ve probably had them tell you what your body mass index (BMI) is and they likely discussed possible risk factors associated with it. But other ways, such as body composition analysis, can more accurately tell you how at-risk you are for certain health problems. Learn why a BMI number doesn’t tell you the whole story about your health and how you can get more thorough information from body composition analysis.

What is BMI?

Your body mass index (BMI) is a number calculated by dividing your height by your weight. The resulting number is two digits and usually falls between 14 and 53. This number is used to get a picture of your overall health and determine your likelihood of being underweight or overweight, which can indicate potential health risks like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

The BMI is a universal tool most fitness, nutrition, medical professionals, and health apps use to get a ballpark of your health status based on your weight and height alone. At Restoration Health, we don’t use the BMI like other healthcare professionals do because we don’t think it tells the full story.

Why doesn’t the BMI tell the whole story of your health?

The BMI calculation doesn’t consider a person’s full body composition or lifestyle, so it can’t tell the whole story of your health regarding your weight. Like your weight on the scale, a BMI is just a number and doesn’t tell us how much lean mass (including muscle, bones, organs, and water) you have or if the amount of fat mass you have puts you at risk. The BMI also can’t tell us about lifestyle factors that affect your health, such as whether you’re active, how much stress you deal with, or if you regularly eat a nutritious, balanced diet.

For instance, some people who fall into the “overweight” category based on their BMI may have a very high lean mass, which is made up of muscle and other elements, but would still put them in the overweight category. They may be highly active in weight lifting, sleep well, and have a balanced diet, but their BMI wouldn’t reflect this.

At the same time, someone who smokes several packs of cigarettes a week could be in the “healthy” range based on their height and weight, although we know that tobacco use increases your risk of cancer.

What is body composition analysis?

Body composition analysis calculates your body’s ratio of lean body mass to fat mass. Many different technologies and equipment types can be used to calculate your body composition. Generally, they scan your body to determine your fat, lean, and bone mass and where fat is distributed.

The components of a body composition analysis include:

  • Fat mass: the body’s fat tissue measured as weight in pounds.
  • Body fat percentage measures how much fat you have compared to your body weight.
  • Lean mass: the total weight of all non-fat tissue in the body, including muscle, bones, organs, and water.
  • Lean mass percentage is the amount of non-fat tissue in your body compared to your total body weight.

What can a body composition analysis tell me?

Unlike a BMI or your simple weight on a scale, body composition analysis can tell you how much fat you have about your body, where the fat is located on your body and why this contributes to risk, and how much lean mass or other tissue your body has about your total body weight.

It’s important to know your fat mass percentage because it’s healthy to have fat to provide your body with an energy reserve and cushioning and insulation for vital organs. Fat also plays a role in regulating your body temperature. However, studies have shown that too much fat mass, especially in the stomach or abdominal area (or the “visceral fat” around your organs), can increase your risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. For women, a body fat percentage of 23 – 34.9%, and for men, 12.5 – 20.7% is associated with good health and a lower risk of chronic disease.

Lean mass is also important to understand because muscle mass is the major engine of our metabolism, meaning the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. A higher lean body mass also ensures your muscles and bones remain strong and healthy as you age, supporting physical activity and mobility. For women, a lean mass percentage is 69% and above; for men, 74% and above is considered a healthy lean mass ratio.

Combined with an understanding of your health and lifestyle factors, like what you eat, blood work analysis, how often you move your body, and what kind of exercise you do, body composition analysis can help us make informed decisions about how to improve our health and reduce risk factors for chronic illnesses.

How can I figure out my body composition?

The best way to get an accurate reading of your body composition is to visit a health clinic that specializes in this service, such as Restoration Health. We use a Styku 3D body scanner that scans your entire body in 35 seconds and provides hundreds of accurate measurements, including fat mass and percentage, lean mass and percentage, and fat location.

We use the scanner to track changes over time, including your waist circumference, lean mass increases or decreases, and fat mass increases or decreases. This gives us a much more accurate understanding of your health risks than the number on a scale.

While body-fat scales are available for home use, they aren’t very accurate. A full body composition scale not only tells you how much fat you have as a percentage of your body weight; it also tells you where that fat is on your body and how much lean mass or bone mass you have.

Use Your Body Composition to Improve Your Health with Restoration Health

Set up a Styku body composition analysis appointment with Restoration Health to start your body composition journey and get deeper insights into your health. We use the scan as part of a comprehensive look into what factors affect your health, including lifestyle, medical history, and others, and help map out a personalized treatment plan. Whether your goal is weight loss, toning, or overall fitness, our healthcare team can get you started today with an initial consultation.

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