MY HUSBAND DROPPED – by mistake – a heavy box on my feet recently. ‘Dumbbells,’ Alex explained in response to my wounded squawk. That minor ‘domestic’ came about after a joint expedition to test out a DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) body scan, which measures your body composition. The report principally reveals the amount and distribution of fat and lean muscle mass, by weight and as a percentage of body composition, then rates the result for your age, height and gender.
Although Alex proved to be fit for his 66 years, his arms were low on muscle. After the four-minute, noninvasive, full-body scan – you lie on a couch in a hospital gown while the scanner passes up and down – Bodyscan director Phil Chant printed out pages of material, including coloured maps of body composition, and talked us through them. He suggested that Alex incorporate weights into his training sessions – hence the dumbbells.
I was particularly interested in finding out how much visceral fat we had – that’s the dangerous, deeply stored fat that wraps itself round your organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys and may creep through your muscles. Even slim and active people can harbour this invisible villain.
DEXA is the most accurate way of measuring visceral fat apart from an MRI scan – the gold standard, but costly – or a CT scan, which involves vastly more radiation than DEXA and is also more expensive. Radiation from a DEXA scan is the same, at 0.005mSv, as a dental x-ray. Bioelectrical impedance analysis, a method of estimating body composition and body fat, is markedly less accurate. However, DEXA became less accurate at the high end of the obesity spectrum in one study.
The good news was that our visceral fat levels were low and our bone density levels were excellent. Phil emphasises that ‘this is a good general indication of bone health, rather than a definitive diagnosable assessment’. The body map showed that I carry a little extra fat on my upper body as old injuries and a dodgy back have made it more difficult for me to target exercise above the waist. But, in general, we were both assessed as in very good shape for our ages.
Scrutinising the Bodyscan results with Phil was fascinating, illuminating and also surprisingly motivating. We both left determined to improve the (mercifully few) weak areas and maintain the healthy ones. I’ve come to like air-boxing – great stress relief! – so I’m now researching punching balls for my Christmas list. Meanwhile Alex is planning a return to Bodyscan to see if his arms have muscled up.
Contact Bodyscan on 020 3490 4171 or visit bodyscanuk.com. DEXA body scan plus visceral fat estimate and personal consultation, £159; for two people, £258. Packages available.