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When we step on the scale, our body composition determines how much we weigh. Our bodies consist of fat-free mass, bones, muscle mass, fat, bodily fluids, and organs. The different ratios of these are what we call your body composition, and it’s impacted by lots of different factors. For instance; age, sex, physical activity level, genetics, and hormones all impact body composition. So how do you accurately measure body composition? If you weigh a certain amount, how can you tell how much of it is muscle mass vs fat, for instance? 

There are many quite a few different ways to measure body composition, although not all of them are easily accessible to the average person. Aside from tracking your own health goals and if you’re gaining muscle or losing fat, measuring body composition can also be helpful in identifying risk factors for various diseases. The following measurements are used as diagnostic, preventative, and measurement tools. 

So, what are the different methods and tools available to those who want to measure their body composition?

man measuring body composition by using a tape measure around his waist

Anthropometric measurements

Anthropometric measurements is a term used by medical professionals. Essentially, it refers to  measurements of height, weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and skinfold measurements. They’re some of the most basic ways to measure your body composition, and are also used for plenty of other purposes outside of measuring body composition. 

1. Skinfold measurements

Skinfold measurements are used to estimate body fat. A skinfold measurement can be done pretty much anywhere, as long as you have a skin caliper. A skin caliper is used to pinch the skin underneath the arm or specified site, and it measures the percentage of fat to skin ratio.  Skinfold measures the fat under the skin, which is often referred to as subcutaneous fat. These measurements are then calculated to determine the percentage of fat. 

2. Waist circumference

Waist circumference is done with a tape measure and can be done at home, in a health care provider’s office or the gym. The tape measure is placed around the middle section of the waist, aligned with the belly button. The waist circumference can be used for waist to hip ratio calculations and waist to height.

Waist to hip ratios are done because the fat located in the abdominal region can be an indicator of risk factors for other diseases. These measurements aren’t the best indicator of body composition because they can’t tell the difference between muscle and fat.

3. Body Mass Index 

Body mass index (BMI) is a simple calculation that uses height and weight to determine if a  person is underweight, normal weight, or overweight/obese. BMI only takes height and weight into account, which is not a great representation of body composition. It is often used due to its ease and accessibility, it is a quick tool that may help determine risk factors. The downside of BMI is that it takes weight into account but not the different components of weight. 

This means it assumes that weight is fat mass, which doesn’t necessarily paint a good (or real!) picture. Fat composition and muscle mass are huge factors to our health. That’s why in many situations, Body Mass Index has limitations. It can be useful as a guideline or general rule of thumb, however. 

For example, a 5’6” and 156 pound female could be considered overweight according to BMI but technically only have 4% body fat, since muscle weighs more than fat. 

Other body composition measurements

While the anthropometric measurements are easily accessible, they don’t necessarily measure all of the components of body mass. Body mass can be measured using more expensive equipment that is not always accessible. Muscle mass can also be measured separately, but the below methods focus more on body composition as a whole.

1. Advanced medical options – DEXA, CT, and MRI

DEXA is an accurate form of measurement for body composition. It has the ability to measure bone and tissue but it isn’t always accurate in terms of bodily fluids. 

Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are both capable of measuring the types of tissue and composition.

While none of these scans are ideal for measuring body composition due to the cost and inaccessibility, they are relatively accurate.

2. Hydrostatic weighing

Hydrostatic weighing is one of the most accurate forms of measuring body composition. While it is accurate, it requires expensive equipment that submerges the body underwater. 

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3. Body Impedance Analysis (BIA)

Body impedance analysis (BIA) measures the electrical signals that go through the body. The signal flows through water, lean mass is made up of mostly water, whereas fat slows down the signal. 

This technology is sometimes found in scales (like the types often found in gyms) and can now be found in Samsung Galaxy watches too. The sensors take fluids, fat mass, and muscle mass into consideration. This makes it easy for you to get an accurate measurement of your body composition without the need for advanced equipment.

At home measurements

There are several options for those that prefer to measure body composition in the comfort of their own home. As mentioned above, a typical scale only measures body weight. However, that can still provide you with a quick estimate on gains and losses.

Depending upon your goals, using a tape measure at home is another simple way to track progress for specific areas. Wearing a Samsung Galaxy watch is a great way to have additional measurements at your fingertips.

Always speak with a professional if you have any concerns regarding your body composition. A full assessment can be done and your doctor can recommend if any further testing is needed.