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Muscle Tone and Body Composition

Body composition is the term used to describe the percentage of fat, bone and muscle in the human body. The amount of fat in a body’s composition is of most interest because it can be very helpful in judging health in addition to body weight. Since muscular tissue takes up less space in the body than fat tissue, body composition, as well as weight, determines how lean a person appears. Two people who share the same height and body weight may look completely different because they have different body compositions.

Recommended body fat percentages depend on age, gender and ethnicity, but it is important to understand that body fat percentages that are too low or too high carry increased risks to health.


A certain amount of body fat is essential for:

  • Providing protection, cushioning and insulation around organs.

  • Forming an essential part of the membranes in every cell in the body and in the brain, nerve tissue and bone marrow.


The minimum amount of body fat essential for life is around 3-5% for men and 8-14% for women. These ranges are classed as very low.

Very low body fat levels are not sustainable and can be detrimental to health. Keeping body fat low is often associated with poor nutritional status. Performance suffers (early fatigue, increased risk of infection and intolerance to cold) and women’s periods may stop, putting them at risk of additional problems, such as increased bone loss and osteoporosis.

It is difficult to come up with an exact figure of how much body fat is healthy, but it’s estimated at 8-25% for men and 21-36% for women – the upper levels of these ranges are aimed at older adults. For competitive sportspeople, these figures tend to be lower.

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