Thursday 23 January 2020

Fit to be tried: Body Fat / BMI Testing

Amanda Phelan

NOT one, but two experts this week approached various bits of me with a machine that looks like a cross between a barbecue tongs and a large tweezers.

Their goal? To squeeze my fat bits and produce a verdict, good or bad, on the resulting measurements.

The body-fat or skin-fold test is an important and widely used way of getting a quick and fairly efficient insight into your health and weight levels, the experts say.

DCU's Giles Warrington, a sport and exercise physiologist, comes up with my reading at 17pc body fat, a tad lower than that of personal trainer Oisin McCabe, which puts me at 19.6pc.

"Getting a reading of your body-fat levels is a good fitness tool, and worth doing every few months," says Dr Warrington, who lectures at the School of Health and Human Performance.

He offers to take my body-mass index rating as well, although this is a less efficient indicator.

Your BMI is the ratio of fat to muscle, but it can be misleading -- for example, a bodybuilder would come up as obese under the BMI index.

According to World Health Organisation measures, a BMI reading of 18.5pc to 24.9pc is normal, while 25pc and over is overweight, while 30-plus is obese. Mine comes in at 21.9pc, right in the middle of normal.

In the US, body-fat tests are popular. As obesity levels soar, a new calipers have had to be designed to cope with the number of overweight Americans.

But this is standard in a country recently forced to introduce weighing scales for primary schools capable of coping with children of 300lbs (136kg) and over.

Unfortunately, we aren't that far behind. For the first time, many Irish children will have a shorter life-expectancy than their parents, due to our rising obesity levels and associated illnesses such as diabetes.

Most gyms, sports clubs and some GPs now do a body-fat test to measure a client's fitness and health levels, as well as using it as a tool to keep up motivation.

McCabe (23), a recent sports science graduate of DCU who now works as a personal trainer at Westwood Clontarf, on Dublin's northside, takes my body-fat reading from seven sites, including legs, hips, tummy, neck, shoulder and arms.

My result? A 19.6pc reading, up from 16pc only two years ago when I was fitter. McCabe says there's always room for improvement.

"If you trained with me, I'd get your body fat down to about 15pc within six weeks through a combination of diet and anaerobic-style exercise," promises the trainer, who runs circuit-style classes.

"You can train as hard as you like, but if you want sculpted-looking abdominals, you've got to get your body fat down," he insists.

However Dr Warrington has a softer approach although he agrees that eating a good diet low in processed foods with good sources of protein, plus exercise, is the only way to look slim and be fit.

"Your BMI and body-fat levels seem fine -- I could tell just by looking at you," is his opinion, and clearly the one worth listening to. This is my kind of fitness expert.

When Dr Warrington performs the test on four sites, his conclusion is that I am 17.9pc flubber or subcutaneous fat -- fat below the skin. He tests each area twice.

Athletes and others who want an exact reading opt for the immersion technique, where you are put underwater. This test is based on the Archimedes principle of water displacement -- bone and muscle are more dense than water, whereas fat is less dense.

Trim athletes, such as jockeys, who tend to have an average body-fat reading of about eight per cent (for males), might use this test.

But for most of us, the skin-fold measure is worth doing every now and then just to confirm what many of us know but don't always manage to achieve: eat well, exercise regularly and you -- or anybody else -- won't be able to pinch more than an inch.

The Verdict

Did it work? Yes, a good measure of basic body health

Pluses: Easier than getting submerged in water

Minuses: Seeing your muffin top clenched in calipers

Cost: Between €40-90. DCU also does a DEXA test that includes bone-density measurements

Contact: Most gyms or personal trainers will check you. Oisin McCabe, tel: 085 7277 928 DCU School of Health and Human Performance, tel: 01 700 5000 or for free BMI tests.

Irish Independent

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