13

votes

Optimal BF% for Overall Health and Longevity?

Answered on June 26, 2018
Created January 19, 2011 at 10:11 PM

I've been camped out around 12% for a while and through experimentation have found what choices make me a little leaner or a little less lean, so I'm confident I could camp out at 10% or so, but that decision would be based on narcissism, not health. Over the years, I have heard and read many times accounts of people who claim to get sick far more often at a low bodyfat %. Vitamins A, D, E and K are stored primarily in fat, but I wonder if a consistently high intake of these via strongly nutritious foods that are not subject to seasonality might make our fat-soluble vitamin buffer unnecessary. Clearly, adipose tissue has endocrine and other functions, but these would not really be negatively effected by a sparse amount of fat stored in these cells.

Perusing pictures of many types of contemporary hunter gatherers shows a variable but narrow range that is likely 10-15% for males and 20-25% for females on average, but that doesn't really tells us what is optimal for health and longevity, just that higher amounts of fat don't "naturally" occur.

If we subscribe to Taubes' theories, then a correct dietary carbohydrate content will result in an ideal bodyfat %, regardless of how many calories we take in or how much exercise we do. I'm still not wholly convinced that this occurs, and even if it were true, it would be difficult to figure out which level of carbohydrates is optimal. He seems to argue that each level of carbohydrate intake (accounting for type, and outside of starvation) has a corresponding hormonal response which assigns people to a particular body composition. The high variability among past and present hunter gatherers with regard to carb intake coupled with the low variability in apparent BF% makes this unhelpful for the task at hand.

Have you fellows any anecdotes or thoughts to share on the subject?

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 14, 2013
at 03:25 PM

Here you go: Jack La Lane: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne 1914-2011. Tons of muscle on that dude. If you watch his TV show, you'll find he's very close to paleo. Not 100% obviously, but "If man made it, don't eat it."

532cfd279d793e8fcc23b9f6d91dde5c

(1981)

on January 12, 2013
at 05:55 PM

@travis, maybe the HGs living in those abundant environments have little bodyfat because their consistent nutrition sends an "external resources are plentiful" signal, in which case there's not a good reason to be carrying much in the way of emergency rations in the form of body fat.

B22e5946e28a1845a6006737e59edfc6

(2437)

on April 29, 2011
at 06:39 AM

Stephen I think you are looking at African hunter-gatherers. The ones from South America look to carry more body fat. http://msnbcmedia4.msn.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/z_Projects_in_progress/050404_evolution/050328_evolving_stomachs_matis.grid-6x2.jpg. http://en.mercopress.com/2010/11/19/museum-suspends-expedition-to-meet-uncontacted-tribes-in-the-paraguayan-chaco

66e6b190e62fb3bcf42d4c60801c7bf6

(12407)

on January 20, 2011
at 04:56 PM

@Stephen was there a point in the weightloss when you were losing any muscle mass? right now, i don't seem to be but it worries me. right now i've been holding steady at about 200lbs of lbm during my 50lb drop but i'm worried that the closer i get to the low teens that i'll start dropping lbm. what was your experience?

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:26 PM

WOW, that was ALOT of math for my tiny brain this morning, but it actually came out perfect for me too at the -95 number, not -100.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:17 PM

sumo are not my idea of healthy individuals. nor long living ones.

5f0158c23fcb5636e57b4ce097784da0

(1386)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:59 PM

funny thing is, this formula is 100% true for me personally.

Medium avatar

(39821)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:05 AM

I dunno, I've seen a lot of pictures that were from close to first contact and a lot of those people have a layer of fat. Surely there's some genetic component that affects deposition patterns, so it may just be that most of the HGs have the same amounts, just different deposition.

Medium avatar

(39821)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:59 AM

Your points are well taken; The variation we see among hunter gatherers may be more an indication of the success than anything else, though it's difficult to reconcile that with the fact that some live in areas of such great relative abundance and yet have little in the way of bodyfat. I was thinking about this earlier. I don't plan on any sort of Donner Party trips in the near future, so that energy buffer shouldn't really be all that necessary.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:52 AM

Same here, but what I like best is it FEELS right and it's been easy to maintain.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:22 AM

indeed, a person with high bf may be strong, but would he (i'm talking here about males) be able to pull himself from a full swing?: sumo wrestlers have on aver. bf of 25-30%, and yet i would be quite surprised if they could do that

Cb2415c2aef964ab499a09dc92ae7e01

(783)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:21 AM

My point remains. If I were 150 lbs at 8% bf, that would be 12 pounds of total fat. If 5% is essential for survival, that leaves 3% of 150 lbs which is 4.5 pounds. This is 15,750 calories - 1 week. If hunting was very bad for 2 weeks, there would be trouble. From an evolutionary standpoint, maintaining 10% bf would be much safer than 8%. That is *not* to say that 10% is preferable today since we don't have this issue.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:17 AM

Its far simpler to accomplish and maintain than I thought back when I was obese. I assumed heavier was normal. that sub 10 was for bodybuilders... its not, active healthy people eating real food... will drop down.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:15 AM

walking around at 6% is dangerous imo. 8% far from dangerous.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:13 AM

from what ive read about women, thats about right.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:13 AM

Why is this so unbelievable? There are some extremely fit people floating about this community!

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:12 AM

thats merely relative strength and capable at even very high BF %

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 12:02 AM

even when I eat in PLENTY, i have more energy, not put on more fat tho... when i avoid inflammation and eat paleo... i dont get fat. I think their bodies much like ours now, simply have less energy when calories are low, to prevent them from using fat below dangerous levels. 6% is dangerous. 8% gives you a TON of time to find food before you are in trouble... weeks.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 19, 2011
at 11:55 PM

unfortunately weight based on height is as useless as American BMI. Im 8-9% bodyfat with visible abs, and "overweight" now because of muscle mass.

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14 Answers

4
7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

on January 20, 2011
at 01:12 AM

I don't know about optimal body fat for health and longevity, but I know my goal was to get under 25% and now that I've been eating Paleo for a few months I'm hovering around 20-22%. It is absolutely perfect FOR ME. I like the way my body looks here. I like my strength. I am eating more than I have in 6 years, but less carbs and more protein. It's perfection for me.

I get tempted sometimes to push it lower, but I actually don't want to lose my breasts and that's what happens when I get around the 20% mark. I'll take the extra junk in the trunk to keep the rest of the me where I want it.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:52 AM

Same here, but what I like best is it FEELS right and it's been easy to maintain.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:13 AM

from what ive read about women, thats about right.

4
D31a2a2d43191b15ca4a1c7ec7d03038

on January 19, 2011
at 11:23 PM

Travis, thank you posing such an interesting question. I'm not a fellow, but, here are a few thoughts: :)

The ideal body fat for optimal health depends, at least, on one's sex, age, genetic make-up, health history/parameters, type of physique (for lack of a better description), professional demands, and one's goals in life.

I have read studies about lean body mass and weight in older people, and some predictions for longevity, but those studies were all based on the SAD and the controls were not ones based on a Paleo approach to eating. The blog articles I have seen, all quote these studies based on the SAD, which makes any conclusions questionable.

I don't count on many future, sound, relevant, clinical trials based on a Paleo diet, because there isn't much money for the multi-national, pharmaceutical conglomerates if studies based on real foods prove that people live longer and healthier lives on real food, and, therefore, use very few medicines. The conclusions of studies based on real food could expose the misdeeds and ignorance of the politicians who have used propaganda to push agricultural products, by-products and waste. The emperor doesn't wish anyone to know he wears no clothes.


Dr. Jan Kwasniewski, author of the Optimal Diet, uses one's height in centimeters minus 100, plus or minus ten percent, as a gauge for ideal weight for health and longevity.

Example: If a person is 190 cm tall minus 100 = 90 Kg, plus or minus ten percent.

The book states the same formula for women and men. (I don't know if people in Poland need to weigh more.)

Dr. Kurt Harris and Peter Dobromylskyj, each, have written some about Dr. Kwasniewski's views.

Here is the link to Dr. Kwasniewski's site, translated into English by Google translator:

http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&sl=pl&tl=en&u=http://dr-kwasniewski.pl/%3Fid%3D2%26news%3D80&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.com

and a site in English, out of Australia:

http://homodiet.netfirms.com/index.html


Peter Dobromylskyj, who writes the blog, Hyperlipid, has written about the question of weight, with his usual honesty and astuteness.

At the end of this blog article:

http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2008/05/weight-loss-when-its-hard.html

Also the final thought must be: What is the healthiest weight, personal preferences aside? I don't think we know.

As is often the case, there are many gems of his in the comments, as well as in his blog articles.


If I should find any abstracts or full texts on ideal body fat for longevity which I think worth noting, I will post them here.

The question of ideal amount of lean body mass and fat for one's own health and lifespan are very much a present question.

I look forward to reading others' posts.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 19, 2011
at 11:55 PM

unfortunately weight based on height is as useless as American BMI. Im 8-9% bodyfat with visible abs, and "overweight" now because of muscle mass.

66e6b190e62fb3bcf42d4c60801c7bf6

(12407)

on January 20, 2011
at 04:56 PM

@Stephen was there a point in the weightloss when you were losing any muscle mass? right now, i don't seem to be but it worries me. right now i've been holding steady at about 200lbs of lbm during my 50lb drop but i'm worried that the closer i get to the low teens that i'll start dropping lbm. what was your experience?

3
9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on January 20, 2011
at 01:17 PM

I agree with coach Charles Poliquin, an ideal bf for a male (in terms of balancing performance and longevity) is between 6 and 10%. How do you know if you're under 10? You can see your lower abs.

Interestingly, Martin Berkhan uses the same formula as Dr. Jan Kwasniewski for ideal weight, ht in cm - 100 = ideal weight in kg.

His standards are a bit different, however. He argues this is your max muscular bodyweight for a "contest-ready" bodybuilder. Meaning around 5-6% bf and slightly dehydrated. So their walk-around weight would be ht minus 95-97= max bodyweight.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:26 PM

WOW, that was ALOT of math for my tiny brain this morning, but it actually came out perfect for me too at the -95 number, not -100.

5f0158c23fcb5636e57b4ce097784da0

(1386)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:59 PM

funny thing is, this formula is 100% true for me personally.

2
Cb2415c2aef964ab499a09dc92ae7e01

(783)

on January 19, 2011
at 11:55 PM

This is an interesting question, but there is one aspect to consider. Hunter-gatherers were just that. Even if they were skilled at acquiring food and tribal knowledge was extensive, surely there were times when the hunt was bad, the fish didn't run or roots & berries were scarce, etc. In these situations it would have been a disaster to be sitting at 6-8% body fat; bad hunting for 2 weeks and you'd be gone. Also, the image of beauty itself probably would have included some fat as sign of plenty and wealth. So lean but not ripped/shredded probably the norm.

Our society is obviously a totally different matter. Though some people on SAD may be starving for nutrients, there is little real starvation due to scarcity (ie, food just not around and not enough calories to sustain life). Food is pretty much everywhere and if you really needed some calories to survive you can get them. Most of us considering this question may skip a meal or two sometimes or even frequently, but if we wanted to eat we can eat. So it is much less threatening to be at 8% body fat in this situation.

Medium avatar

(39821)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:59 AM

Your points are well taken; The variation we see among hunter gatherers may be more an indication of the success than anything else, though it's difficult to reconcile that with the fact that some live in areas of such great relative abundance and yet have little in the way of bodyfat. I was thinking about this earlier. I don't plan on any sort of Donner Party trips in the near future, so that energy buffer shouldn't really be all that necessary.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 12:02 AM

even when I eat in PLENTY, i have more energy, not put on more fat tho... when i avoid inflammation and eat paleo... i dont get fat. I think their bodies much like ours now, simply have less energy when calories are low, to prevent them from using fat below dangerous levels. 6% is dangerous. 8% gives you a TON of time to find food before you are in trouble... weeks.

Cb2415c2aef964ab499a09dc92ae7e01

(783)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:21 AM

My point remains. If I were 150 lbs at 8% bf, that would be 12 pounds of total fat. If 5% is essential for survival, that leaves 3% of 150 lbs which is 4.5 pounds. This is 15,750 calories - 1 week. If hunting was very bad for 2 weeks, there would be trouble. From an evolutionary standpoint, maintaining 10% bf would be much safer than 8%. That is *not* to say that 10% is preferable today since we don't have this issue.

532cfd279d793e8fcc23b9f6d91dde5c

(1981)

on January 12, 2013
at 05:55 PM

@travis, maybe the HGs living in those abundant environments have little bodyfat because their consistent nutrition sends an "external resources are plentiful" signal, in which case there's not a good reason to be carrying much in the way of emergency rations in the form of body fat.

1
Cbdc8318738324492f2d5918868ce4c9

(1211)

on January 12, 2013
at 04:54 PM

Here's an anecdotal longevity perspective based on interviews of 30 US centenarians described in the book "Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life".

None of them had exercise routines, but they were all active in a more conventional way, as compared to HG. They ate home cooked meals, were not "health conscious" per say, but real food based.

I was surprised to find that most had siblings who died <70 from disease, implying genetics is less of a factor than I would normally think.

They were not obese, but were also not going out of their way to reduce body fat, making me tend to believe they didn't have ab-revealing BF%.

1
7f8bc7ce5c34aae50408d31812c839b0

(2698)

on January 10, 2013
at 05:53 PM

I think the idea that the best % BF for mortality is sub 10% or even sub 20% is not supported by observation. See this: http://intranet.santa.lt/thesaurus/no_crawl/BENDRI/Impact%20of%20obesity%20on%20total%20and%20cardiovascular%20mortality%E2%80%94fat%20or%20fiction.pdf

From figure 1 of the reference, for both all cause mortality and cardiac mortality the lowest relative risk is achieved with BMI's between 25-30. Now before you go off about how crappy BMI is as a measurement, hear me out.

Figure 2 of the reference shows the statstical variation in body fat% among men and women who have a BMI of 25, the lower end of the lowest mortality risk group. Fig 2 clearly shows that there are very few individuals with a BMI of 25 that have BF% below 15%. The vast majority of men with BMIs of 25 have BF% between 18% and 32%.

If you believe these statistics have been accurately gathered and presented, then you might conlcude that the lowest relative risk for mortality is in men with around 18-32% body fat and women with around 28-40%.

I don't consider this to be definitive in the sense that we want to be in those BF% ranges. But I do consider this to argue strongly against the idea that men should be 8-12% body fat for best longevity.

The reference does conclude that it might be far more accurate to take into account body composition as well as body fat in determining mortality.

1
44348571d9bc70c02ac2975cc500f154

(5853)

on April 29, 2011
at 06:16 AM

In cold climates having a little extra bodyfat is healthy i think. We had the coldest and longest winter for ages last year and i felt cold as hell. I have been leaner in the past when i was doing 400kms a week with road cycling and always freeezing during winters. Ofcourse it is great to be lean in very warm and humid climates. This is always very personal thing, and best way to know is to get to know your body! For some 8-10% is great, for others maybe 15% might be healthier?

1
4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

on January 19, 2011
at 11:23 PM

HGs I see pictures of don't sit at 10-12%...The active healthy (male) ones all have abs.

I think its a matter of set point, once you get down to 8% it's prettyeasy to hold there... It's working down your setpoint that's the fight.

Edit: to be clear, I think the # is in the 8-10% range for active individuals.

I don't think you hit danger are till 6% or less.


I feel the need to add further opinion. I dont think Bodyfat is at all important for Health and Longevity, other than too much visceral fat will harm both. subcutaneous is likely to be fine...

Muscle on the other hand is strongly correlative to longevity.

Medium avatar

(39821)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:05 AM

I dunno, I've seen a lot of pictures that were from close to first contact and a lot of those people have a layer of fat. Surely there's some genetic component that affects deposition patterns, so it may just be that most of the HGs have the same amounts, just different deposition.

B22e5946e28a1845a6006737e59edfc6

(2437)

on April 29, 2011
at 06:39 AM

Stephen I think you are looking at African hunter-gatherers. The ones from South America look to carry more body fat. http://msnbcmedia4.msn.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/z_Projects_in_progress/050404_evolution/050328_evolving_stomachs_matis.grid-6x2.jpg. http://en.mercopress.com/2010/11/19/museum-suspends-expedition-to-meet-uncontacted-tribes-in-the-paraguayan-chaco

0
B2f87b481a7d11044e7cff7ee1fabeef

on June 26, 2018
at 05:51 AM

Lean Body Fat Measure for Abs. To defined abdominal definition, and possibly a six pack abs, men mostly need to achieve a body fat % of 6% to 9% ; women need togain 16 to 19 percent body fat. The leaner you are, it is more likely it is that abs will show up right there

0
Ed94d7cc1398422b49a60b0c19c82539

on February 11, 2018
at 08:13 PM

@paleohacks, it seems like I am very late to the game on this thread, but in case you're still responding to it, I think you are suggesting the bodyfat and strength of a gymnast in order to pull oneself plus one other up to the top of a precipice. I think very few people actually have the composition--even if extremely fit. The reason being is the strenth to weight ratio. There are some extremely fit NBA players, for example, who because of gigantic size would not be able to do this--despite low body fat and immense strength. So you are suggesting that someone who is very strong with the small frame of an Olympic gymnast would have the best success at longevity were they to keep those qualities through life.

 

0
542b90953dba76493648ecb9cf9219ec

on January 10, 2013
at 02:54 PM

Show me a single instance of someone with a lot of muscle living a long life.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 14, 2013
at 03:25 PM

Here you go: Jack La Lane: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne 1914-2011. Tons of muscle on that dude. If you watch his TV show, you'll find he's very close to paleo. Not 100% obviously, but "If man made it, don't eat it."

0
5f0158c23fcb5636e57b4ce097784da0

(1386)

on January 20, 2011
at 08:53 AM

whether 8% or 15% - doesn't matter for health and longevity, as long as it doesn't cause (or is caused by) chronic inflammation and derangement of metabolism or appetite control. i'd say it's perfectly possible to be fit and 100% healthy at 15%, and even live as long (or even longer) than the next hobby bodybuilder at 8%. higher BF is not per se detrimental to health - but carrying it mainly as visceral fat and being sedentary probably is. so, fat deposition/distribution, overall health and fitness is at least as important as total BF%.

0
8e137b4db1c58f579fe5d17e2edfee9f

on January 20, 2011
at 01:00 AM

You guys claiming 6 to 8 percent crack me up. You're all full of it and aren't honest enough to admit it.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:17 AM

Its far simpler to accomplish and maintain than I thought back when I was obese. I assumed heavier was normal. that sub 10 was for bodybuilders... its not, active healthy people eating real food... will drop down.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:15 AM

walking around at 6% is dangerous imo. 8% far from dangerous.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:13 AM

Why is this so unbelievable? There are some extremely fit people floating about this community!

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on January 20, 2011
at 12:11 AM

on my guesstimate, minimally appropriate level of bf would be one at which you are able to pull yourself up hanging from a precipice, and climb on it; the ideal would be one at which you're able to do the same but holding an additional load the same as your own weight

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:12 AM

thats merely relative strength and capable at even very high BF %

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on January 20, 2011
at 02:17 PM

sumo are not my idea of healthy individuals. nor long living ones.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on January 20, 2011
at 01:22 AM

indeed, a person with high bf may be strong, but would he (i'm talking here about males) be able to pull himself from a full swing?: sumo wrestlers have on aver. bf of 25-30%, and yet i would be quite surprised if they could do that

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