Long gone are the days when “getting skinny” was the ultimate weight loss goal. Finally, weight-loss coaches, personal trainers, and the general audience are grasping onto something deeper.
It’s so refreshing to see that instead of “how to lose weight”, more and more people focus on “how to reduce body fat percentage”. And it’s helping them! Not only do they lose unnecessary pounds, but they’re also gaining a healthier focus on what’s really beneficial for their health – the leaner body tissue (which has nothing to do with being “skinny”). In this article, I’m sharing science-based research our team did on how to reduce body fat percentage, how to get fit in a healthy way, and which small, helpful habits you can adopt to lower body percentage faster. It’s time to reach those body goals… Healthily!
How To Reduce Body Fat Percentage For Health, Weight Loss and Fitness Goals
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
First of all – what is body fat? This is the first question that comes to mind for those who have been regularly measuring their bodies for years.
Body fat is simply the number of fat cells present in your body. Body fat (also called adipose tissue) is used to determine the health, strength, and biological age of an individual.
A certain level of fat is essential for maintaining fitness and keeping the body energetic. We need fat to function. Yet, having leaner figures may not automatically lead to being healthy. The problem arises when your body fat percentage is higher than normal.
The answer to the question ‘what is body fat percentage?’ leads to much more complex science.
In general, body fat percentage is the percentage of body fat that you possess in your body.
Why is body fat percentage so important? Because our health is directly impacted by the amount of fat we carry in our bodies (especially around our waist). There are a lot of diseases and disorders that are directly linked to having a too high or too low percentage of body fat. It’s important to know and decrease your body fat percentage until it reaches the normal range.
What is the difference between Body Fat Percentage and BMI (body mass index)?
- The BMI calculates the ideal body weight for a certain age range.
- Body fat percentage defines the fat present in the body.
Both are important measures to know if you want to reduce body fat percentage and get leaner.
Interesting fact: it’s possible to have a low BMI and high BFP. This paradox is especially seen in some Asian countries.
How To Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage?
In order to calculate your body fat, you must first be familiar with your body’s weight and measurements. Knowing these numbers will give you a basis for knowing how much of your body mass is composed of fat.
First of all, it is useful to know what your BMI is. As mentioned before, the BMI is a calculation that takes your height and weight into consideration. If you have your BMI number, it can generally give you an idea of how much fat is present in your body. For example, if your BMI is high and you are not physically fit, it signals that your body fat percentage is probably too high.
Body fat percentage calculation, overall, is more complicated than just dividing your weight by your height for BMI. Remember that you have both fat and muscle tissues in your body – therefore, there is no single standard way of calculating this number. There are a few ways to do that and they all differ by their accuracy.
In order to calculate your body fat percentage, you can use body calipers, specific digital scales, or a hand measurement of your body. Let’s see how these three methods work.
1. Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage Using Body Calipers
Body calipers can provide you with an easy estimate of how much body fat you have in specific parts of your body, but they cannot accurately determine the exact number of fat that is present overall. To use this method, you have to purchase body fat calipers and use them on your belly skinfold. They will show your body fat percentage estimate right away.
2. Calculate Body Fat Percentage With Body Measurements
A measurement method can provide you with a good estimate as well. It is often used when people are learning how to lose body fat. To use the hand measurement method, take measures of your neck and waist, then use an online body fat calculator.
Some calculators use the waist-to-hip ratio instead, but the process is the same.
3. Calculate Body Fat Percentage Using Digital Scales
Digital scales with a body composition analyzer can probably give you the most accurate body fat percentage. They’re pricier than body calipers but more useful for every day, at-home use. Some of them also come with an App for your iPhone or Android, so you can track the body fat changes in your body.
What Is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage (BFP)?
According to WebMD, there are several body fat ranges:
- Essential body fat percentage for women is 10-12%, and 2-4% for men. This is the least amount of fat you should have in your body. Note that it’s natural and normal that women have a higher amount of fat in their bodies;
- For people who are athletes, females should have a 14-20% body fat percentage, males should strive for 6-13%;
- The acceptable body fat percentage for women is 25-31% and 14-17% for men;
- Body fat percentage that signals obesity is more than 32% for women and more than 26% for men.
Body fat percentage also tells you about your overall health. When your fat weighs more than lean body mass, you are considered to be obese. Obesity increases your risk of many serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and joint pain.
The main health problems associated with excessive fat are high blood pressure and diabetes. High blood pressure can cause stroke and heart disease, and diabetes can lead to a wide range of complications including blindness and kidney failure. When you’re dealing with high blood pressure or diabetes, your risk for heart disease and strokes goes up dramatically. Even if you’re not suffering from these serious medical conditions, you’re still at risk for heart damage and other problems if you have excessive body fat. A higher body fat percentage is also associated with early osteoporosis risk.
The good news is that by controlling your diet, your body fat percentage can be lowered and this alone can greatly improve your health. Your disease risks can also be greatly reduced. If you feel alarmed by this information, please know that it can be improved. In the next sections, we will focus exactly on that.
What Influences The Body Fat Percentage?
Your body fat percentage will be determined by several factors, but as with anything in fitness, your activity level and your diet have the biggest influence. For instance, if you exercise several times per week and follow a healthy diet, your body fat percentage will be on the lower side. On the other hand, if you eat more fried foods than fruits or vegetables, you are likely to have a higher body fat index. Thankfully, no hard science here!
How To Reduce Body Fat Percentage: 3 Essential Things To Do
Now that you know why and how to calculate your body fat percentage, let’s take a look at how to reduce body fat percentage and achieve a healthier physique. This section will talk about essential things to do to start lowering your body fat mass. These are the core actions that should be taken. The next section will provide you with a bunch of small, helpful improvements that will help you to get fit faster.
Let’s start by noticing that when you choose to control your body fat percentage, you’ll never have to worry about “failing at weight loss”. This approach says “no” to “weight” loss. You don’t have to lose muscles, water, and anything else from your “weight” – only the “fat” part should be lost. It doesn’t even matter how much you weigh. What matters is to lower and achieve a healthy body fat percentage. This allows you to say no to fad diets, irrationally hard workouts, and irritation when you feel like you’re losing weight, but your scale doesn’t reflect it.
With a health-focused approach, not only will your body fat levels decrease, but you’ll feel great as well. If you ever tried to lose weight without trying to control your body fat, you know it’s a huge challenge. By doing simple exercises and eating healthy food, you can lose weight quickly, easily, and consistently – and the sooner you start, the better.
1. Start By Creating a Calorie Deficit
Start slow. If you decide to begin your personal fat loss program, start by cutting back your daily calorie intake by about a third. This will help you to determine if you can handle a higher-intensity diet or not. If you can’t handle it, then just cut down less on the calories that you eat, and strive to lose a bit more in the form of exercise. This way, you can determine if it’s possible to stick with a high-intensity weight loss or if should you modulate your diet and exercise ratio accordingly.
Control your diet to include more healthy, fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats. Lower the number of simple carbohydrates in your diet (think carbs like white flour, rice, sweets, fruit juice, and pasta). The goal is to create a healthy nutrition schedule with a reasonable amount of calories. A meal planner template can be very helpful here!
2. Form an Exercise Habit
If you want to reduce your body fat percentage, it’s best to do it with an exercise routine. Any exercise and body movement activity that burns calories can help you to burn that extra body fat off. The secret is to pick activities that are pleasant to you or at least feel less boring than others.
My personal recommendation is to pick an activity that, besides burning calories, can also improve your mental health. This way, you’re getting mentally stronger too! Here are a few examples:
- Walking in nature boosts your mood, improves circulation, and is a great, fat-burning form of cardio workout;
- Swimming in a pool elevates your heart rate enough to burn fat all over your body + it’s fun!;
- Weight lifting and strength training are both great ways to grow lean muscle mass, which increases your resting energy expenditure and allows you to burn more fat. Building muscle also helps you to feel physically stronger and improves your confidence!;
- Aerobic exercise burns a lot of calories in a session and is considered quite fun, especially if you do it in a gym, with a group of people;
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or Crossfit workouts burn the most fat in the shortest amount of time. For competitive people, it can give a healthy form of fitness gamification. Doing hard physical tasks and achieving even harder fitness goals releases a lot of happy hormones!
3. Boost Your Metabolism By Lowering Your Stress Levels
High stress hormone levels, mental health problems like anxiety and depression, sleep issues can contribute to a higher body fat percentage. Not only do these struggles influence your appetite and make you eat more, but stress, in general, can make your metabolism slower.
Dealing with stress and internal issues, getting enough sleep, and lowering cortisol are all important parts of weight loss. Look at your body as a whole – you’re not just a set of bones, muscles, and fat. Your emotions, how you feel, and how you see the world around you influence the way your body feels and functions all the time.
100 Small Ways To Reduce Body Fat Percentage Faster
There’s always something we can do to improve our health further. If you’re ready to work on a fat loss goal, it’s helpful to do whatever you can to make it happen. Why? Because every little step will count towards the result. Even the tiniest one.
To finally lose the extra weight, improve your health, reduce body fat percentage or just generally get fit, this “every step counts” approach can be greatly helpful. Once you start changing one small thing after another, eventually, you will feel that it’s not only your body that is changing. Your whole lifestyle, philosophy, and mindset change as well.
And isn’t this what they preach in those health journals and recommendations? “To be healthy, you have to make living healthy your lifestyle” (our super fit friends at Fitness Volt agree to that).
I made this beautiful list a few years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite go-to lists whenever I feel that it’s time to get more fit. I love how simple yet effective these ideas are and how they remind me that getting in shape is a bundle of different steps we have to make in order to achieve our desired goal. Big or small, all those tiny steps are important to our success. This is why I decided to include this list as a helpful guideline of how much you can actually do in order to lower your body fat percentage faster – in a healthy way.
Let’s get in shape!
How To Reduce Body Fat Percentage Faster and Get Pretty Fit While You Do It
1. Drink more water;
2. Strive to be more active every day;
3. Add more veggies to your meals;
4. Choose fruits for a desert;
5. Choose leaner meats (if you eat meat at all);
6. Choose a salad as a side for your meals;
7. Eat more probiotic-rich foods;
8. Take the stairs instead of lifts;
9. Park your car further and walk;
10. Even bike to work if possible;
11. Have an invigorating yoga session in the morning;
12. Make a goal to lift weights 2-3 times a week;
13. Do cardio for the rest of your weekly workouts;
14. Do some gentle stretching before sleep;
15. Try to create a regular sleep schedule;
16. Spend more time in the fresh air;
17. Take long walks on the weekends;
18. Don’t weigh yourself every day;
19. Take body measurements and keep track of them;
20. Try to minimize negativity in your life;
21. Limit the amount of salt you consume;
22. Strive to eat less added sugar;
23. Choose whole grains when possible (we love oats in the morning!);
24. Learn to make quick and healthy smoothies;
25. Add more protein (like chicken, fish, and beans) to your diet (or have a high-quality protein shake as one of your meals);
26. Choose healthier oils and fats (avocados and olive oil are your best friends for that);
27. Find out your daily basic metabolic rate;
28. Weigh your foods if possible (this can help you find the best portion size for you);
29. Log your calories into the calorie counting app;
30. Journal your weight loss journey;
31. Visualize yourself fit and healthy;
32. Choose a glass of red wine when you drink alcohol – it’s full of healthy antioxidants;
33. Limit your alcohol consumption overall;
34. Start your day with a big glass of water;
35. Try to eat more fiber-rich foods;
36. Make it a habit to do a few exercises while you’re watching TV;
37. Get lymphatic massages or start having dry brushing sessions before getting into the shower;
A bit more on this – dry brushing is wonderful for improving circulation and tightening your skin! It’s especially important if you want to prevent loose skin which often appears after you lose a lot of weight. For dry brushing, you only need a natural bristle massage brush, like these:
Brush in circular motions from your feet towards your heart before every shower.
38. Allow yourself a full portion of your favorite meal once a week;
39. Never stay hungry for too long;
40. Take your coffee black (lattes are full of calories!);
41. Research healthy recipes;
42. Then create your favorite healthy recipe binder;
43. Eliminate soda from your life – it’s full of empty calories that contribute to a higher body fat percentage;
44. Try to take 10.000 steps daily;
45. Choose 85% cocoa chocolate (and enjoy in moderation);
46. Always try to eat slowly;
47. Chew your food very well;
48. Eat mindfully and fully enjoy every bite;
49. Eat until you feel 80% full;
50. Don’t eat in front of the TV or your phone;
51. Limit take-out foods;
52. Don’t eat when you’re not hungry;
53. Find ways to reward yourself without food;
54. Notice when you’re eating emotionally (and try to stop or find a better way to deal with stress);
55. Set small health goals instead of one huge goal;
56. Always listen to your body;
57. Consume foods that are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon and other fatty fish, nuts, flaxseed oil);
58. Find and list all the healthy snacks you like (like air-popped popcorn!);
59. Start reading ingredient lists;
60. Take detoxifying baths;
61. Visit a sauna for detoxing sweat session;
62. Use coffee or seaweed body scrubs;
63. Carry your shopping bags instead of using a trolley;
64. Try resistance training;
65. Get a gym subscription;
66. Or subscribe to a few workout channels on Youtube;
67. Find a workout buddy;
68. Always do a warm-up to avoid injury;
69. Put on small ankle weights when going for a walk;
70. Eat something within 1 hour after a workout (it helps your muscles to recover faster);
71. Have rest days between 2-3 workout days;
72. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night;
73. Go swimming regularly, if you can;
74. Notice PMS food cravings and try to comfort yourself in another way;
75. When eating out, try to choose leaner, healthier choices;
76. When in doubt, just choose a vegetarian meal;
77. Skip very fatty dressings (like cheese sauce) whatsoever;
78. Eliminate processed foods from your diet;
79. Choose organic when possible;
80. Make regular, vigorous home cleaning sessions (burns calories + keeps the house clean!);
81. Every day, remind yourself that every little step counts;
82. Keep saying to yourself that this is what you wanted;
83. Stop expecting fast results (slow and steady wins the game);
84. Ditch the negative self-talk;
85. Practice loving your body no matter how it looks;
86. Prioritize getting healthy first (body results will come with that);
87. Set daily reminders to eat healthy and workout;
88. Plan and prepare your meals;
89. Caffeine helps to keep your metabolism speedy (and did you know you can get a monthly coffee subscription?);
90. Take your own lunch to work;
91. Have a few healthy snacks in your purse (trail mix works great!);
92. Drink green tea to boost your metabolism;
93. Talk to a dietician if needed;
94. Eat more superfoods (chia seeds, goji berries, quinoa…);
95. Replace your favorite comfort meals with healthier, modified versions of them;
96. Read inspiring success stories to stay motivated;
97. Find a few fitness role models and follow them for inspiration;
98. Try fun, playful activities right in your backyard, like jumping on a trampoline (Vuly has a nice guide on how to choose it).
99. To be extra precise, you can try counting your macros as well;
100. Don’t give up if you get stuck on a weight loss plateau.
Frequently Asked Questions About Losing Body Fat
How long does it take to decrease 1% body fat?
Losing about 1% of body fat per month is considered a safe, healthy, and fast enough way to reduce body fat percentage (source).
Which exercise burns the most belly fat?
While you can’t spot-reduce fat and lose belly fat only, you can burn fat all over your body and your belly fat will burn too. These exercises burn the most fat in the shortest amount of time (source):
- Cycling on a stationary bicycle;
- Running and sprinting;
- Aerobic dances;
- Jumping rope.
Body Fat Percentage Matters
Maybe even more than any other weight measurement. I hope you enjoyed our research and tips for lowering the body fat amount. If you’re ready to get healthier, set a goal, start with 3 essential lifestyle changes (lowering your calorie intake, moving your body, and prioritizing your mental wellness). Then, try to implement some tips from the 100 habits list every week to speed up fat loss and achieve balanced body fat levels. And don’t forget to stay positive on your journey! It’s not supposed to happen overnight, but as long as you’re moving towards your goal, you’re making progress.
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We strive to use high-quality information and deliver content that is based on science, latest research, comprehensive studies, or expert advice. These reputable sources have influenced or inspired this article:
- Tomlinson, D. J., Erskine, R. M., Morse, C. I., & Onambélé, G. L. (2019). Body Fat Percentage, Body Mass Index, Fat Mass Index and the Ageing Bone: Their Singular and Combined Roles Linked to Physical Activity and Diet. Nutrients, 11(1), 195. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010195
- Frank, A. P., de Souza Santos, R., Palmer, B. F., & Clegg, D. J. (2019). Determinants of body fat distribution in humans may provide insight about obesity-related health risks. Journal of lipid research, 60(10), 1710–1719. https://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R086975
- Goonasegaran AR, Nabila FN, Shuhada NS. Comparison of the effectiveness of body mass index and body fat percentage in defining body composition. Singapore Medical Journal. 2012 Jun;53(6):403-408. PMID: 22711041.