What is body composition, and why is it important?
Body composition is one part of a person’s overall physical fitness. The others are cardiovascular endurance (fitness of the heart and lungs), muscular strength and flexibility. The first two parts are linked with the risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease.
Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrate and various vitamins and minerals. If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of the fat is located in your waist area — you are at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol , diabetes , heart disease and stroke.
Two helpful ways to test a person’s body composition are the waist-to-hip ratio (W.H.R.) and the body mass index (B.M.I.).
What is the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)?
The waist-to-hip ratio is a method used to measure the distribution of a person’s body fat. Waist in inches is divided by the hip measurement in inches.
For men a desirable WHR is less than 0.9, meaning that the number of inches around the waist is 90 percent of the circumference of the hips.
For middle-aged and elderly women the WHR should be less than 0.8 (waist 80 percent of hips).
How do you find your waist-to-hip ratio?
1. With your feet together, stand straight with your abdomen relaxed.
2. At the narrowest part of your upper body (at the level of your natural waist), wrap a cloth measuring tape around your body. Keep it horizontal, and don’t measure at your navel.
3. Do not hold your breath or try to hold in your waist as you take the measure. Don’t pull the tape so tight that it compresses the skin. Write down the value to the nearest ¼ inch.
4. Now place the tape horizontally at the widest point of your hips and buttocks. Do not pull the tape too tightly. Write down the value to the nearest ¼ inch.
5. Find your waist measure along the top of the Waist-to-Hip Ratio Table. Find your hip measure along the left side of the table. Then find the number on the chart where the two values meet. This is your waist-to-hip ratio.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio Table (for adults only)