sponsored by

Focus on body composition and lifestyle for a healthier self

Focus on body composition and lifestyle for a healthier self

(Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com)

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Many people have a love-hate relationship with their bathroom scales, especially during the holiday season. If this describes your attitude, take heart. Many respected health and fitness experts say measuring our weight is not the best reflection of overall health.

"Body composition testing is important because knowing your weight on the scale doesn't tell you anything about your health," says Traci Thompson, MS, ACSM HFD, CSCS. "Knowing your body composition and how much fat and lean tissue you have tells you a lot more about your overall health."

Thompson is the director of PEAK Health and Fitness at University of Utah Health. At PEAK, the approach to measuring and discussing body composition is comprehensive and collaborative.

"If someone comes in to do a body composition test, we talk to them about their results," Thompson says. "But most of our conversation is about: What does your lifestyle look like? How are you sleeping? How much are you moving? How are you fueling your body? We ask about how you are feeling in your body and whether you are able to do the things that you want to do."

The testing process at PEAK starts with a short trip inside the Bod Pod, a capsule that uses Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP) to determine the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in a person's body. Testing accuracy requires a little preparation before someone enters the Bod Pod including: no food or exercise for four hours prior to the exam and form-fitting clothes to wear during the test. For women, Thompson recommends a swimsuit or a sports bra and Lycra shorts; for men, a Speedo or compression shorts.

The Bod Pod experience is a good step in the process of getting a clearer and more complete picture of your health and fitness. It's quick and easy. "You just sit inside for two to three 50-second tests, and it measures your body composition," Thompson says. "The range of error on this test is plus or minus 2%."

We do have physical activity recommendations that we share with people. One of the most important recommendations is that adults should be performing strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

–Traci Thompson, director of PEAK Health and Fitness at University of Utah Health

Once the numbers are crunched, Thompson and her staff of highly trained graduate students help their clients understand the results. Thompson emphasizes that "there is no number I can give you that says, 'Yes, this is a healthy or not a healthy amount of body fat.' What we want to talk to people about is how they got to those numbers." Having a healthy lifestyle is much more important to health than how much body fat you have.

The conversation often begins with a look at physical activity and whether a person is getting some activity each day and a recommended 150 minutes of movement each week. Thompson has a master of science degree in health and exercise, so she tends to highlight the importance of activity in our daily lives.

At PEAK, Thompson suggests each client is unique and there are no one-size-fits-all recommendations.

"We do have physical activity recommendations that we share with people," she says. "One of the most important recommendations is that adults should be performing strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week."

Other areas of focus during the body composition analysis and discussion include quality and amount of sleep, stress levels, and diet. These sessions are often conducted by graduate students who are completing their degrees in nutrition and dietetics.

Maddy Hutchison is a nutrition specialist and a graduate student in the Coordinated Master's Program (CMP) in Nutrition and Dietetics. "Helping individuals to build a good relationship with food and their body is integral to the work we do at PEAK," Hutchison says. "Ensuring that the nutrition education we give clients is evidence-based and personalized to fit their lifestyle makes these changes sustainable and enjoyable."

As an undergraduate student working on her bachelor's degree in kinesiology, Hutchison competed in cross country and track, where she witnessed discussions surrounding what an ideal runner's body looks like. Hutchison says she wanted to help others optimize their health through diet and lifestyle choices independent of body size.

"My own experience convinced me to move beyond the emphasis on body size as a symbol of health," Hutchison says. "I want to focus more on helping others fuel their bodies with proper nutrition to support their health goals without the pressure to look a certain way."

This combination of services provided by long-time professionals in health and fitness and students who will soon take their skills out into the real world is what sets the PEAK program apart from others. "These students are so smart, and they are educated on the latest research," Thompson says. "They are consistently on the cutting edge, and this is a win for our clients."

The team at PEAK can also measure a person's resting metabolic rate (RMR). The RMR is the number of calories your body needs to maintain its current weight if you were going to remain seated in a chair all day. Prepping for the test requires fasting and resting for four hours, much like the Bod Pod.

Thompson describes the rest of the process: "You sit in a chair and breathe through a tube for 10 minutes. The tube is connected to a machine that measures the calories you are burning at rest. That data gets extrapolated to determine your body's caloric needs throughout a day."

The number of calories burned in this completely restful state is well below even what a person with a sedentary lifestyle might burn in a day. Still, the RMR is one more guidepost along a person's journey to better health and fitness. "This is knowledge that is helpful for people who are thinking about what they are putting in their bodies in terms of calories," Thompson says. "It is also helpful in terms of talking about how much you are moving."

PEAK's services are available to anyone who wants to make an appointment for testing, analysis, and counseling. This one-on-one advice on how to improve your overall health may never have been more important for people whose lives and lifestyles were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hutchison has seen this new need for guidance in the clients she has worked with post-pandemic. "A lot of people have the knowledge of what it means to eat healthy and exercise but sometimes can use the help with determining strategies to make it fit with the way their lives have changed since the pandemic."

Related topics

U of U HealthBrandview
University of Utah Health


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast