The Truth About What a Healthy Body Fat Level For Women Actually Is

Stepping on the scale always gets my blood boiling, mostly because my weight changes more times a day than I change my clothes. But even when I'm reading what my number is, I always try to listen to the voice inside of my head that reminds me that how much you weigh does not always equal how healthy you really are. That's when body fat comes into play, and if you ever wondered what the healthy amount to have is, we're here to help answer that question.

When we think of the word "fat," it often instantly resonates with a negative connotation. But that's not always the truth.

"Your body contains essential fat, which is needed to function properly and protect the organs," said Dr. David Greuner, a cardiovascular surgeon and cofounder of NYC Surgical Associates. "Any extra fat is considered 'nonessential' and can play a big role in your overall health. By measuring your body fat percentage, you're determining how much of your weight is fat."

But not all body fat is considered equal. How much healthy body fat you should have often depends on whether you're male, female, or even an athlete.

"It is important to look at multiple factors when determining if an individual is at a healthy weight," Dr. Greuner said. "Since muscle weighs more than fat, not everyone with a high number on the scale is obese. Conversely, individuals with a 'normal' weight can still have a high body-fat content — which can put them at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other health-related problems."

So what is the healthy percent of body fat a person should have? Dr. Greuner explains that for women between the ages of 18 and 39, a healthy body fat range is between 21 percent and 32 percent. Women aged 40 to 59 can range from 23 percent to 33 percent, and women aged 60 to 79 can range from 24 percent to 35 percent.

In addition to looking at your body fat range, Laura Arndt, the CEO of Matriarc, a health and wellness app for moms, said that you should also take a look at your overall habits.

"Are you exercising and getting a variety of foods? Is your body fat spread out over your body or is it mostly in the abdomen (where it's considered to be slight more dangerous for heart health)? You should also look at your muscle mass and bone density when considering your overall health," said Arndt. "Being too low or too high does have health consequences, and most women should aim to be in the 'fitness or average' range."

If you're like me, you're probably wondering where to go and how to actually measure your body fat, since it's not a simple number that will pop up on the same screen that your weight pops up on when you step on a scale.

Dr. Greuner suggested that one way to measure your body fat is by using a handheld device.

"This device uses a method called bioelectrical impedance analysis to measure your body's resistance to a gentle electrical current," Dr. Greuner said. "A manual body fat caliper is a more traditional device that works by pinching different areas on the body to calculate your overall body fat."

Arndt recommended keeping a schedule of how often you measure your body fat so that you're aware of its change and your overall health.

"I tell my clients to measure body fat about once a month once they have started an exercise or weight-loss program, and to look at their fitness improvements and their body fat percentage at the same time to get a better picture of overall health," Arndt said.