Three months after joining the YMCA and working out three times a week, Udona Love was curious to see whether she had made any progress.
A quick health assessment revealed a four-pound weight loss. But even more impressive was the change in body fat: It had dropped nearly 4 percent, to 34.8 percent.
Knowing her body fat percentage is far more helpful than the body mass index, which is based on a person’s height and weight, Love said.
“It lets me know what I need to work on to get to the level I need to be at,” she said.
Love was one of about a dozen people who took part Wednesday in a free fitness assessment offered by Spartan Stores YMCA. Participants learned their their BMI and body composition – the proportion of muscle and fat.
Of the two, the body composition was far more useful, participants said.
Their reactions echoed recent research that found the often-used BMI does a poor job in measuring a person’s fitness. A study released Tuesday found 39 percent of the people with an acceptable BMI actually were obese, according to their percent of body fat. And 3 percent of men who were classified as obese by their BMI in fact had healthy levels of body fat.
Twenty-year-old Jake Savage, of Wyoming, took advantage of the screening on his second day of membership at the YMCA. Savage, who is 6-2, had recently lost 40 pounds in three months of healthy eating. He was ready to start working out regularly.
He was glad to learn both his BMI and body composition, but Savage said the percent of body fat was a more practical measure.
“You know you’ve got to lose the body fat,” he said.
Justin Lyon, the YMCA’s senior health and wellness director, said Savage had already started on the right track by changing his eating habits – something that many people avoid even when they exercise. For exercise, Lyon advised Savage start doing some form of cardiovascular exercise five days a week.
Beverly Bloem, a 51-year-old from Kentwood, found her body fat, at 32.5 percent, was average for women her age. To get that level in the above-average range, Lyon said she would have to lose 2½ percent.
Bloem said she recently started working out with the encouragement of her son, David, who also came to the screening. Working on fitness with a 24-year-old could be frustrating, she said.
“He can eat a heck of a lot more than I can” without gaining weight, she said.
That is a function of the difference in their muscle mass, Lyon explained. While muscles use energy even when they aren’t working, fat “just sits there,” he said.
He suggested Bloem do interval training that alternates intense spurts of cardiovascular activity with periods of rest and recovery. And he recommended adding strength training to increase muscle mass – which would result in more calories being burned even at rest.
Udona Love, who came to the screening with her husband, Fredrick, said she has found the benefits of exercise went beyond losing weight and increasing muscle.
“It makes you feel so much better,” she said. “I sleep better, and I feel so much better during the day.”
Email Sue Thoms at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/suethoms