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Your body composition is the ratio of fat-free mass to fat tissue. A lower body fat level usually indicates a healthier, leaner frame. You can be skinny and still have too much body fat. Changing your body composition for the better requires regular cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Losing weight without such activities usually results in the loss of healthy lean body mass, or muscle, as well as fat.
You should care about your body composition because it can be a direct measure of your health. You may appear thin, but have pockets of fat in areas that raise your risk of chronic disease. Storing a lot of fat deep inside your belly encircles internal organs and can raise your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. As you age, you naturally lose muscle and gain more fat, especially if you don't exercise. No official recommendations for body fat levels exist, but healthy body fat percentages range from 12 to 18 percent for men and 18 to 22 percent for women; these might be slightly higher as you get older. When your body fat is lower, you also appear more fit and toned. Athletes desire a lower body fat because it makes them more agile and light. To determine your body composition, seek out medical tests such as hydrostatic weighing or a DXA, or bone density, scan. More economical and accessible methods that may be slightly less accurate include skin caliper testing and body fat scales.
Achieving athletic body fat levels - 14 to 20 percent for women and 6 to 13 percent for men - is not necessary for everyone. Reducing body fat to an acceptable level, which is below 31 percent for women and 25 percent for men, is necessary for your longterm health. When you lose weight through diet alone, you tend to lose both lean muscle and body fat - you do not change your body composition. Quick weight loss, such as that which occurs with some fad diets, is particularly unhealthy for changing your body composition. If exercise is new for you, incorporating simple cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming laps or playing doubles tennis, at least 30 minutes daily, five or six times per week will help you lose body fat. In addition to cardio activity, add in resistance training two to three times per week using your body weight, free weights or machines. Aim to address every major muscle group, including your hips, legs, back, chest, arms, shoulders and abdominals, with a minimum of one set of eight to 12 repetitions using weights heavy enough to make the last couple repetitions very difficult.
Once you have established a baseline of cardio and resistance exercise, up the intensity to see greater changes in your body composition. For cardio, you might increase the challenge of the sessions - run instead of walk, for example. Another effective body-composition changing exercise is interval training in which you alternate bursts of very high intensity work with periods of lower intensity training. For example, you could cycle at an all out pace for four minutes and then coast for two minutes. A study published in a 2007 issue of the вЂњJournal of Applied PhysiologyвЂќ found that this pattern completed for a total of 60 minutes, seven times over two weeks improved the body's ability to burn fat during exercise. Increase your intensity when it comes to resistance training as well. Once you can complete 12 repetitions of an exercise without feeling fatigued, increase your weight by 5 to 10 percent and add an additional set or two. Remember to use compound exercises that stimulate multiple muscle groups, such as squats, dead lifts, chest presses and pullups.
Some body fat is necessary to survive. Fat cushions your organs, facilitates vitamin absorption and regulates your temperature. Fat, particularly in women, is important for fertility and hormone production. The essential fat level for women ranges from 10 to 13 percent and for men 2 to 5 percent. When you seek to change your body composition, try not to dip below these levels for any sustained period of time. Your diet also plays a role in your ability to change your body composition. Stick to lean proteins, whole grains and leafy greens at most meals. Keep portions under control to maintain a calorie deficit that prompts fat loss.