What’s A Good Body Fat Percentage For A Healthy Adult?

Average Body Fat Percentages By Sex, Age, And Fitness Levels

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If you’ve ever used a body fat scale, you probably noticed that the scale reports not only your total body weight but also your body fat percentage.

But, there are a lot of uncertainties when it comes to knowing what your body fat percentage should be and questions arise such as, what is a good body fat percentage? What is a good body fat percentage for women and for men?

Can your body fat percentage be too low? Is body fat percentage the same thing as BMI?

In this guide to average body fat percentage, we will answer all of your questions and discuss what body fat percentage is, how to measure it, and a good body fat percentage based on sex and age.

Let’s jump in!

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

What Is Body Fat Percentage?

Body weight is a measure of your total mass multiplied by gravity, so it is a value that looks at your total body as one homogenous entity.

Body fat percentage is a measure of the relative amount of body fat (adipose tissue) you have compared to your overall body weight.

Essentially, your body fat percentage represents how much of your body is specifically fat tissue compared to “lean body mass.”

Your fat mass is all of the fat in your body.

Thus, body fat percentage will sum together all of the body fat throughout your entire body, whether stored as subcutaneous fat under your skin, deep visceral fat around your organs, intramuscular fat, or other sites of fat around your body.

The total weight of this body fat tissue is then compared to your overall body weight, which would include everything including your body fat.

All tissues in your body that aren’t adipose tissue (fat), are considered lean body mass.

Although muscle makes up the majority of lean body mass, bones, organs, nerves, blood vessels, connective tissues such as tendons and fascia, hair, cartilage, blood, lymph, and other tissues are also part of your lean body mass.

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

What Does My Body Fat Percentage Mean?

Again, body fat percentage can be thought of as a measure of the amount of body fat you have relative to your total body mass, so when you subtract your body fat percentage from 100%, you will have your lean body mass percentage. 

For example, if you have 25% body fat, 25% of your total mass or weight is body fat (adipose tissue) and 75% of your body weight is lean body mass.

You can use your body fat percentage to calculate how much total body fat you have in pounds or kilograms as well.

If you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg) and have 25% body fat, you have 165 x 0.25 = 41.25 pounds of body fat and 123.75 pounds of lean body mass.

Does My Body Fat Percentage Matter?

We often think of body fatness as a matter of aesthetics, but your body fat percentage can also influence your health.

Your body fat percentage can be used to stratify your risk for various diseases and provide one of many components of the overall picture of your physical health.

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

This is because various research studies over the years have identified an increased risk of having excess body fat.

For example, obesity, which is a condition marked by excessive body fat, is associated with adverse health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Through various large-scale population studies, medical researchers have been able to stratify health risk based on body fat percentage for females vs males and identify a “healthy body fat percentage for women” and a “healthy body fat percentage for men.”

Having a higher body fat percentage than a “normal body fat percentage“ can increase your risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and certain cancers.

At the same time, while bodybuilders and even everyday individuals are often looking to be as lean as possible and have the lowest body fat percentage they can obtain, there can also be risks of having too little body fat and a body fat percentage that is lower than the healthy body fat percentage for your sex.

A certain amount of body fat is needed for essential functions of the body, including:

  • Providing insulation to conserve body heat.
  • Helping to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K.
  • Helping to produce hormones and cholesterol.
  • Supporting fertility and reproductive hormones.
  • Providing fuel for the production of energy.
  • Providing padding or cushioning to internal organs.
A person measuring their body fat percentage on a scale.

How Is Body Fat Percentage Measured?

There are various ways to measure body fat percentage, most of which come with a margin of error.

The gold standard for measuring body fat percentage is hydrostatic (underwater) weighing.

Because most people don’t have access or the desire to do the hydrostatic weighing body fat percentage test, there are lab tests and field body fat measurements that also estimate body fat percentage, including the following:

  • Plethysmography (BOD POD®)
  • Bioelectrical impedance
  • Infrared
  • Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
  • Circumference measurements
  • Skinfold measurements
  • Body fat scales 

You can learn more about determining your body fat percentage here.

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

Does BMI Measure Body Fat Percentage?

Body mass index (BMI) is often used in medical settings to stratify your health risks, much in the way that there are different categories of body fat percentage.

However, rather than looking at how much of your weight is fat tissue relative to your total body weight, BMI is just a measure of total body weight relative to your height.

This means that BMI does not take into account the specific composition or tissue that comprises your weight.

Therefore, two different individuals with very different body compositions can have the same BMI yet very different body fat percentages. 

Studies have found that BMI often misclassifies individuals as being overweight or obese based on their BMI yet they do not have risk factors when you look at body fat percentage and overall health.1Tomiyama, A. J., Hunger, J. M., Nguyen-Cuu, J., & Wells, C. (2016). Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005–2012. International Journal of Obesity40(5), 883–886. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.17

‌BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared: BMI = weight (kg) / [height (m)]2

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

For example, if you weigh 70 kg and are 165 cm tall, 70 / (1.65)2 = 25.7 kg/m2.

With pounds and inches, the formula for calculating BMI is weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703.

So, if you weigh 160 pounds and are 65 inches tall, [160 / (65)2] x 703 = 26.6 kg/m2.

You can calculate your BMI here.2National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2019). Calculate your BMI – standard BMI calculator. Nih.gov; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

‌According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI is categorized as follows:3CDC. (2022, June 3). About Adult BMI . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html

BMIWeight Status
Below 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Healthy Weight
25.0 – 29.9Overweight
30.0 and AboveObesity

Some health organizations add an additional classification of Morbid Obesity for a BMI of 35 or above.

A person measuring their body fat percentage on a scale.

What’s A Good Body Fat Percentage? Average Body Fat Percentages By Sex and Age

A good body fat percentage varies based on your sex and age. 

According to the University of Pennsylvania, the average healthy adult body fat percentage for men is 15 to 20% across all age groups and the average body fat percentage for women across all age groups is 20 to 25% for women.4Body Composition Information and FAQ’s Sheet. (n.d.). http://pennshape.upenn.edu/files/pennshape/Body-Composition-Fact-Sheet.pdf

As per the body fat categories from this resource, women with a body fat percentage above 32% and men with more than 25% body fat are considered to be at increased risk for disease. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s good body fat percentage levels suggest that having a body fat percentage of less than 8% for men and less than 14% for women is also associated with health issues.

Again, this is because a certain amount of fat is vital for hormonal function, organ cushioning, and the absorption and production of certain nutrients.

A person measuring their body fat percentage.

The amount of essential body fat for men is 3% and essential body fat for women is 13%.

Women need more essential body fat to support reproductive needs.

Having a very low body fat percentage that approaches the levels of essential body fat for men and women, respectively, can increase your risk of injury, illness, infertility, hypothermia, organ damage, and nutritional deficiencies.

Studies suggest that the physical health consequences associated with having too little body fat can involve nearly every body function and system, and can increase the risk of heart damage, shrinkage of internal organs, gastrointestinal problems, compromised immunity, loss of reproductive function, muscle wasting, damage to the nervous system, and even death. 

According to the University of Pennsylvania, the classifications for body fat percentages based on age and sex are as follows:5Body Composition Information and FAQ’s Sheet. (n.d.). http://pennshape.upenn.edu/files/pennshape/Body-Composition-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Women

CategoryBody Fat Percentage for Women Aged 20-29Body Fat Percentage for Women Aged 30-39Body Fat Percentage for Women Aged 40-49Body Fat Percentage for Women Aged 50-59Body Fat Percentage for Women Aged 60-69
Dangerously Lowunder 14%under 14%under 14%under 14%under 14%
Excellent14–16.5%14–17.4%14–19.8%14–22.5%14–23.2%
Good16.6–19.4%17.5–20.8%19.9–23.8%22.6–27%23.3–27.9%
Fair19.5–22.7%20.9–24.6%23.9–27.6%27.1–30.4%28–31.3%
Poor22.8–27.1%24.7-29.1%27.7–31.9%30.5–34.5%31.4–35.4%
Dangerously Highover 27.2%over 29.2%over 31.3%over 34.6%over 35.5%
A person measuring their body fat percentage on a scale.

Men

CategoryBody Fat Percentage for Men Aged 20-29Body Fat Percentage for Men Aged 30-39Body Fat Percentage for Men Aged 40-49Body Fat Percentage for Men Aged 50-59Body Fat Percentage for Men Aged 60-69
Dangerously Lowunder 8%under 8%under 8%under 8%under 8%
Excellent8–10.5%8–14.5%8–17.4%8–19.1%8–19.7%
Good10.6–14.8%14.6–18.2%17.5–20.6%19.2–22.1%19.8–22.6%
Fair14.9–18.6%18.3–21.3%20.7–23.4%22.2–24.6%22.7–25.2%
Poor18.7–23.1%21.4–24.9%23.5–26.6%24.7–27.8%25.3–28.4%
Dangerously Highover 23.2%over 25%over 26.7%over 27.9%over 28.5%

Other health and fitness organizations interpret body fat percentage as follows:

Men:

  • Essential Fat: < 5 percent
  • Athletes: 5 to 10 percent
  • General Fitness: 11 to 14 percent
  • Good Health: 15 to 20 percent
  • Overweight: 21 to 24 percent
  • Too High: > 24

Women:

  • Essential Fat: < 8 percent
  • Athletes: 8 to 15 percent
  • General Fitness: 16 to 23 percent
  • Good Health: 24 to 30 percent
  • Overweight: 31 to 36 percent
  • Too High: > 37

If you have concerns about having a high body fat percentage or abnormally low body fat percentage, you should work with your doctor and medical team to get an accurate body fat test and guidance for reducing your body fat percentage (or increasing it).

For more information on how to measure your body fat, see:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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