Numbers are only one part of a much larger whole when it comes to your health. However, doctors and other health professionals do use a variety of charts and measurements to get a general idea of health. For example, medical professionals also use body mass index (BMI) during routine appointments with patients.
The ideal percentage of body fat varies markedly between individuals and depends on various factors including body type, age, genetics, activity levels and eating habits. Remember, that having an “ideal” body fat percentage does not equal good health, it’s just one measurement of many.
The ideal weight and fat-lean ratio varies considerably, but the minimum body fat percentage considered safe for maintenance of good health is 5 – 9% for males and 13 – 15% for females, although there’s no hard and fast “rule” on what is too low for an individual.
The table below shows the minimum body fat percentages for both genders by age. As you can see the table suggests that body fat increases with age and although this tends to be the case, it is mostly due to decreased activity levels.
30 – 50
13 – 18%
15 – 23%
16 – 25%
6 – 14%
11 – 17%
12 – 19%
Ideal Body Fat Percentage
No two people are the same and some people may feel or perform better at higher or lower fat percentages than others of the same age and sex. Therefore, there are ranges to give an idea of where ones ideal body fat percentage may lie or should lie above:1
10 – 13%
2 – 5 %
14 – 20%
6 – 13%
21 – 24 %
14 – 17%
25 – 31%
18 – 25%
If within a healthy range women experience disruption of their menses, it may be that she has gone too low and needs to increase her body fat levels a little. For example, if a woman has lost weight and now has a body fat percentage of 17%, it may that her ideal body fat percentage is a little higher and that she should not dip below 20%. In men very low body fat is also unhealthy, though the effect initially may not be as marked as in women.
There are also general suggestions about ideal body fat percentage for non-athletic people:2
For general health and fitness, for men, somewhere between 10-15% is a good range to aim for. However, men who want to see a six-pack of abs usually have to be under the 10-11% mark to do so, since that’s where they normally store fat.
Women who aim to have a six-pack may have to lower their body fat to percentage to 14-16% body fat, which in some women may too low and would disrupt their menstrual cycle. The first place you will notice greater definition is in those areas where fat deposits are relatively thin already. For most, this is around the shoulders and clavicles.