What is body composition, why it matters and how to improve it for overall health

Body composition is important for your health and fitness. Wondering what it is. Read on to know all about body composition.
A woman holding up weighing scale
Body composition is the relative proportions of our different components. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 15 Apr 2024, 10:30 pm IST
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Do you simply check your weight using a weighing scale at home? Well, it may be a good way to measure your weight and work towards your weight-loss journey, if needed. But it does not tell you how fit you are. Body composition, on the other hand, provides detailed information about the proportions of fat mass and fat-free mass in the body, offering insights into your overall health and fitness. We tell you all about body composition, its importance and how to improve it for better health.

What is body composition?

Body composition refers to the relative proportions of different components that make up our body, says physiotherapist Shazia Shadab. Body composition provides information about your overall health, fitness level, and risk factors for various diseases.

A woman holding a weighing scale
Fat mass is one of the components measured in body composition analysis. Image courtesy: Freepik

The key components typically measured in body composition analysis include:

1. Fat mass

It is the total amount of fat tissue present in the body. Fat mass can be further categorised into:

Essential fat: This is the minimum amount of fat necessary for normal physiological functioning, including fat stored in the central nervous system, bone marrow, and organs.
Storage fat: This is excess fat stored in adipose tissue throughout the body, which serves as a reserve of energy.

2. Fat-free mass or lean body mass

Lean body mass is all about our non-fat tissues such as:

Muscle mass: The total weight of skeletal muscles, which play a crucial role in movement, posture, and metabolism.
Bone mass: The weight and density of bones in the body, which provide structural support and protect vital organs.
Water: The total body water content, which includes intracellular and extracellular fluid.
Organ mass: The combined weight of organs like the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs.
Body water: Body composition analysis also measures the distribution of water in the body, including intracellular water (within cells) and extracellular water (outside cells).

How is body composition different from Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Body Mass Index or BMI is a simple measure based on weight and height ratio. It categorises people into weight categories (underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese). BMI is calculated using a formula based on a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of their height (in meters). On the other hand, body composition analysis provides a more detailed breakdown of body components. It distinguishes between fat mass and fat-free mass, offering insights into overall health, fitness, and disease risk beyond weight alone.

Check out the Health Shots BMI Calculator.

What are the body composition measurement techniques?

Body fat percentage is one of the main things used to assess body composition. For women who are not athletes, a body fat range of 25 percent to 31 percent is associated with good health, according to the American Council on Exercise.

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The body composition measurement techniques may include:

  • Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, which provides an assessment of bone density, fat mass, and lean tissue mass.
  • Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis is to measure body composition by sending a low-level electrical current through the body and analysing how it travels through different tissues.
  • Skinfold Caliper Measurement involves measuring skinfold thickness at various body sites to estimate body fat percentage.
  • Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod) determines body composition based on air displacement and volume measurements.

How to improve body composition?

The risk for obesity is mostly determined by total calorie intake, as per a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. So, if you consume a lot of calories, you will gain weight, especially fat. If you gain more fat, it is bound to affect you body composition. That means you must stop eating unhealthy foods, especially highly processed foods to reduce calorie intake. Here are some more ways to improve your body composition:

1. Set realistic weight management expectations

Be it gaining, losing or maintaining weight, achieving fitness goals can be a long journey. It is important to have patience and motivation to achieve a certain look or specific results. It is important to recognise that everyone’s body will respond in different ways to some exercise and diet schedules. So, it is important to set realistic goals for yourself.

2. Get adequate sleep

Getting good quality sleep every night is one of the most important aspects of improving body composition. Sleep improves your immunity to common ailments like cough, cold, oxidative, inflammation (chronic inflammation due to oxidative stress leading to several conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular risks, says dietician and clinical nutritionist Seema Khanna.

3. Exercise

Exercising, especially high-intensity training, will allow your body to tone up. It will also relax your tired muscles which will in turn help in muscle mass gain, improving the body composition.

A woman eating salad for better body composition
Eat foods rich in proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients. Image courtesy: Freepik

4. Diet

Nutrition starts from absorption and assimilation of nutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fat. This absorption starts from your gut. Gut health refers to the well-being of digestive system which is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste from the body. A balanced combination of proteins, fiber and carbohydrates will help to stay healthy.

Also, stay hydrated, and make sure the water lost from your body is equal to the water consumed.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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