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  • Writer's pictureTyler

Fitness Testing: Part 1 | DEXA Scan

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

A body scale that actually tells you something. Learn more about what a DEXA scan is and why you should consider getting one.

 

Overview:


Like many people, I have an aversion to stepping on the scale, and I am rarely happy with the number I see. I conjure up excuses for my weight, such as being on the stronger side, and I play it off with the old "muscle weighs more than fat" adage, rarely giving the ever-rising number the attention it deserves. After years of yo-yoing, however, I recently decided that enough is enough; it's time to take better control of my health by devoting some overdue attention to my weight. As someone who’s interested in health and wellness technology, I saw this as an opportunity to try out some testing techniques that have long been common practice for elite athletes but only recently became more accessible to the public.


When you step on a traditional scale, the number you see tells you almost nothing about the state of your body and your health. In reality, it is a lump sum number that mostly just hurts your feelings, telling you there is a problem without offering even a hint toward the solution. This is where the DEXA Scan shines.


A DEXA Scan is an advanced imaging machine that helps solve the problem of traditional scales, providing a precise picture of your body composition through a detailed breakdown of fat tissue, muscle tissue, and bone composition. With these elements broken down, you gain visibility into the state of your health and can better understand all of the inputs required to achieve that big output number. This data provides much of the background needed to make a fact-based assessment of your health and help guide your plan.

 

The Process:

DEXA Scan
DEXA Scan Machine

When I arrived at Live Lean RX in Austin, the DEXA scan was the first of three tests on the morning's agenda. After taking off my shoes, hat, and metal accessories, I climbed up into the giant scanner and laid down. The technician Jessica ensured that I was aligned correctly and in a relaxed position before starting the test. For six still minutes, I laid there as the machine hummed and the scanner arm moved back and forth, working its way down my body. It was as simple as that. Once the scan was complete, it fed the information it captured into the FitTrace software, which compiled and processed my data within a matter of minutes.

 

The Analysis:


There is a ton of data in the FitTrace printouts, so I will only go over the major areas and a few highlights that Jessica helped me pick out. A quick disclaimer: I am choosing to be transparent in sharing my data as an example. I could be wrong with any assumptions and interpretations I make as I am not a trained nutritionist or physiologist.


Page 1


On page one, you get to see your Body Composition Analysis numbers clearly laid out, with the focus on Total Body Fat %, Total Mass (lbs.), Fat Tissue (lbs.), Lean Tissue (lbs.), and Bone Mineral content (BMC, lbs.). Those items are all defined on the page, so I won't go through them here. Those number also don’t look super interesting in the graph below because I have only done one test; after a few more, there will hopefully be an encouraging trend line.


My personal takeaway from the body composition analysis is that for someone of my height, I have a good bit more Lean Tissue (muscle) than average, and I just need to bring the fat tissue down to balance things out. This feedback is helpful when crafting a fitness plan because I can design my workouts and diet around maintaining muscle and losing fat, thereby narrowing my goals.


The bottom section is the Regional Body Composition Analysis, which shows how your weight is spread over the different areas of your body. A note to clarify: Android is your waist area, and Gynoid is your hip area. Ideally, these areas should be balanced, and in my case they are very close, but there is some proof of love handles.



Per the recommendations, my healthier Total Body Fat percentage would be 23%, compared to my current 29.1%, suggesting that I need to lose about 14.5 lbs. of fat as a start.


Page 2


This page dives into the measurement of Visceral Adipose Tissue (VAT), which is the fat in your Gynoid region (hip area). Knowing how much VAT you have in this area is essential because it poses a disproportionate health risk compared to fat carried in other places. My interpretation, using the diagram on the left, is that the visceral tissue is your "deep" fat, and the subcutaneous is the "superficial" fat. Thankfully, my VAT tissue volume is in the healthy range, which I have joked means I am just fat, not unhealthy.


A/G Body Fat Distribution is a breakdown of the hip/waist balance that I referenced earlier. A ratio of 1.0 is ideal and means you are carrying the fat evenly; I am not far off at 1.01.


Page 3


One element of the DEXA that is usually overlooked in terms of its importance is your Bone Mineral Density (BMD). BMD is the measurement that provides your risk factor for developing osteopenia and osteoporosis later in life based on your age. In your mid to late thirties, your BMD is usually at its peak, then starts a decline as you age. Knowing where you stand based on your age can help you formulate a plan to keep building your bone density while you have time, or at least stunt the decline as the years progress. Bone density is a critical factor for your longevity because of the devastating effects weak bones can have in old age; understanding your situation can help you avoid a life-altering injury down the road. If you are interested in learning more about the risks of a low BMD related to health span, check out this Peter Attia podcast episode with Eric Chehab.


In my case, years of weightlifting (deadlifts and squats) have put me near the top of the chart for my age. While this doesn't change anything for me, it does validate the work I have done in the past and reenforce that there are benefits to weightlifting beyond what the eye can see (looking jacked!).


Page 4


The final page of interest is the Muscle Mass Balance Analysis. As the name suggests, this analysis shows if you have any asymmetry in your appendages in terms of muscle size. For many people, this is a very helpful breakdown, because old injuries and a dominant arm/leg can throw you out of balance. The insight this analysis provides can help you be more targeted in your training and pre-habilitation work to make up for any asymmetries. In my case, I am almost perfectly balanced, so while this metric was seemingly not very insightful for me, it is one less variable I need to consider in my training.


 

Summary:


Although getting all of this data about your body can be overwhelming and exposing, in my case, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Instead of the black box number on a traditional scale, I now have the necessary visibility into my body to start developing a training plan and diet based on facts, not just hunches. Going forward, I can narrow my goals and be more confident in what I should be working toward. For an average of less than $100 I think this test great for anyone who wants to be more


For more information and to find testing locations near you, visit the DEXA Scan website.



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