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What Is a Dexa Scan?

I Got My Body Fat Percentage Tested, and These Are the 3 Interesting Things I Learned

Young people in United States using their free time to do some sports or physical activity.

I love talking about my favorite leggings and workout shoes, but I also love talking about the science of health and wellness. I'm talking everything from what boosts your metabolism to why the "calories in, calories out" mantra no longer holds true. I'm also a technology nerd — here's a list of a few of my favorite gadgets — and I'm a fan of most things (within reason and backed by research) that can help you hack your health. Regardless of whether you're a professional athlete or just an avid gym-goer, I think it's important to take the time to know about what's going on inside of your body and to learn more about how it's functioning.

There are a lot of tests you can do, such as a resting metabolic rate test, that will provide you with information about your health and how to improve it. One test I really like, and think everyone should experience, is the DEXA scan.

What Is a DEXA Scan?

The DEXA scan is one of the most accurate ways to measure your body fat percentage, but it also tells you much more than how much lean muscle mass and body fat you have. You more than likely won't be able to get a DEXA scan at your local gym. Instead, you'll have to book an appointment at a specialized clinic, such as Fitnescity (located in major cities including NYC) for $295 (prices will vary). I know it's a hefty price to pay, but the information you get from it can help inform decisions on your health for both the short-term and long-term.

I Learned How Much Lean Muscle Versus Body Fat I Have

The first important thing I learned from getting the scan done was how much lean muscle mass I have (this includes all your body parts, like organs and muscles, and excludes body fat). I also learned the total amount of body fat I have. What I found interesting and insightful about the DEXA scan is that it breaks down exactly where your body fat is distributed. It tells you exactly how much fat and lean muscle you have in each region of your body, breaking these measurements up by the left and right sides of your body. Your results will also have a section that adds up the percentage of fat mass in your trunk, legs, and limbs, which will let you know where you hold the most fat. For instance, I carry more fat in my legs than in my trunk and limbs.

I Learned How Much Fat I Hold in Different Regions of My Body

I also found out how much fat I hold in my android region, my abdomen, which is made up of visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat that is stored around important organs like your liver, pancreas, and intestines. Too much visceral fat "has been strongly associated with cardiometabolic risk factors," according to research from 2017. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is the layer of fat underneath your skin. We all have subcutaneous fat, but depending on our genetics and lifestyle, how much we have will vary.

The DEXA scan also showed me how much fat I hold in my gynoid region, the area around the hips and thighs. This scan showed that I hold minimal fat in my android region and more fat in my gynoid region. This is extremely important to know because understanding where fat is stored on your body can help you understand potential health risks related to metabolic diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.

I Learned About the Health of My Bones

The most interesting thing I learned from getting a DEXA scan done was my bone density. This number is important because as we get older, our bones tend to become weaker. This number also helps physicians test for osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become brittle and fragile due to a loss of tissue, which can lead to fractures.

Why You Should Get a DEXA Scan

The most obvious reason, in my opinion, for getting a DEXA scan is that it's one the most accurate way to measure your body fat percentage. Aside from that, I think the cost is worth the amount of information you will acquire about your current health and future health. This information can be used by your doctors, trainers, and registered dietitians to help come up with a more individualized plan to help you maintain and improve upon your health. I know that it's a hefty cost, but at the end of the day, I think what you take away from the test is worth it. Plus, it's not something you have to get done every three weeks. You can do it as often as you'd like and compare your data over the years.

I definitely plan on getting my body fat percentage checked at least once a year in order to see if I'm increasing my lean muscle mass, lowering my body fat percentage, and improving my bone density, which are all goals of mine.

Expenses for the author were provided by Fitnescity for the purpose of writing this story.

Image Source: Getty / Drazen_
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