How to lower body fat percentage: Strategies for fat loss, muscle gain & more

Wondering how to lower body fat percentage? We’ve got all the information you need

How to lower body fat percentage
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Ever thought about how to lower body fat percentage? Maybe you had your body mass or adiposity index measured as part of a gym induction, or you hopped on a specialist scale and thought the body fat percentage seemed a little high. If you’re wondering how to lower your own body fat percentage, we’ve got you covered. It’s worth noting upfront that fat loss cannot be achieved overnight and usually requires hard work, and patience. 

Although many diets and fat-burning supplements promise fast results, experts believe modifying your diet, lifestyle, and exercise routine on the best exercise machines to lose weight is the most effective way to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

The simple fact is we all need body fat to survive and function. But if you’re worried about your body fat percentage and its impact on your overall health, the good news is there are simple changes you can make that offer long-term results. Read on to learn how to lower body fat percentage.

What is your body fat percentage?

Many of us use the numbers on the bathroom scale to guide us to get into better shape. But a regular scale just offers one number, your weight, and doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s essential to understand the factors that make up the number on the scale, including how much of your body is made up of fat.

Many fitness experts prefer to measure body composition rather than body mass index (BMI), which is a simple weight-to-height ratio. Body composition refers to the proportion of body fat you have relative to lean tissue (your muscles, bones, body water, and organs). This measurement is a more precise indicator of your fitness. No matter what you weigh, the higher percentage of body fat you have, the more likely you will develop (opens in new tab) heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

According to the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab), general body fat guidelines for men state that 2% to 5% body fat is essential, 2% to 24% body fat is considered healthy, and more than 25% of body fat classifies as obese. For women, 10% to 13% body fat is essential, 10% to 31% body fat is considered healthy, and more than 32% of body fat classifies as obese. These figures show a broad range of acceptability dependent on your gender and body type.

Body fat percentage

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What factors affect your body fat percentage?

NASM-certified personal trainer Mollie Munro says, “Your body fat percentage is often tied to your level of activity and nutrition habits. Eating highly processed foods or consuming many more calories than you burn in a day will lead to additional fat storage in your body. There are also instances in which health conditions and medications may affect your body fat percentage.”

Other factors that affect your body fat percentage include:

  • Age. Many people gain weight as they age. Aging can lead to a weight gain of 1-2 pounds per year, according to a review published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (opens in new tab). Adults who have an average BMI often start to gain weight in young adulthood and continue to gain weight until ages 60 to 65.
  • Sex: Research (opens in new tab) shows a person’s sex may affect where their body stores fat. Women tend to build up fat in their hips and buttocks. Men usually build up fat in their abdomen or belly. Extra fat, particularly abdominal fat, may put people at risk of health problems even if they are at a healthy weight.
  • Lack of sleep: Studies (opens in new tab) have found that people who don’t get enough sleep may eat more calories and snack more. Experts recommend that adults ages 18 to 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep a night and that adults ages 65 and older get between seven and eight hours of sleep a day.

How can you lower body fat percentage?

There are many ways to lower your body fat percentage. These chiefly include increasing your exercise and changing your eating habits, as you might expect. In general, moving more and eating healthier will result in less body fat, although gaining muscle will also favorably alter your fat-to-lean-tissue ratio.

Body fat percentage

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Strength training

Strength training has multiple health benefits, especially when it comes to fat loss. According to a review of 58 studies (opens in new tab), resistance training for at least four weeks may help decrease body fat by an average of 1.46%. It may also significantly reduce body fat mass and visceral fat, which is a dangerous type of fat that surrounds the organs in your belly. In addition, if you’re carrying a higher amount of muscle mass, your total body fat percentage will decrease overall.

Add more protein to your diet

Multiple studies (opens in new tab) have associated eating more high-quality protein with a lower risk of excess body fat and obesity due to your meal’s increased satiety. Upping your protein intake (opens in new tab) may also help you feel fuller for longer, decreasing hunger and reducing your calorie intake.

Ramp up your cardio

Adding cardio (or aerobic exercise) to your regime may be one of the most effective ways to enhance fat burning. For example, one review (opens in new tab) of 15 studies linked increased aerobic exercise to decreased belly fat in middle-aged women. Other studies have found that aerobic exercise may increase muscle mass and reduce belly fat, waist size, and body fat. Running is an easy way to get more aerobic exercise into your week – check out our best running shoes for men and best running shoes for women guides for more.

Increase your NEAT

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the calories you burn just by doing your routine daily tasks, such as cooking, vacuuming, walking upstairs, or fidgeting. While this activity usually doesn’t build up a sweat, every bit counts when reducing body fat.

Eat more fiber & healthy fats

According to some studies, increasing your intake of high fiber foods may protect against weight gain. High fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

One study (opens in new tab) of 345 people demonstrated eating more fiber increased weight loss and improved dietary adherence. Another review (opens in new tab) found that increasing soluble fiber intake significantly decreased body weight and belly fat, independent of calorie intake.

When trying to lose fat, you may mistakenly think you need to cut all fats out of your diet. But a 12-month study associated following a diet rich in healthy fats from olive oil and nuts with more significant long-term weight loss than a low-fat diet. Another review linked diets enriched with olive oil to greater body weight and belly fat reductions than diets without olive oil.

Catherine is a freelance journalist writing across titles such as Verywell Health, Healthline, The Daily Telegraph, Refinery29, Elle, and Vogue. She specializes in content covering health, fitness, wellness, and culture.
A once reluctant runner, Catherine has competed in 30 running events in the past five years and looks forward to one day running the London Marathon.