I recently visited the Cenegenics Medical Institute in Boston for a Body Composition DEXA Scan.
The DEXA scan is considered the Gold Standard in body composition measurement and is commonly used to measure bone density. Increasingly it is being used to measure body composition.
I was given a free Body Composition DEXA Scan at Cenegenics Boston as compensation for writing this post.
Cenegenics has offered the DEXA Scan to their clients since 2011 and to the general public since 2015. When I wrote about body composition measurement in 2012, the scan was not available to the general public.
Cenegenics Boston provides a single scan for $175, two for $300 and four for $500. If you get a 10 scan package the cost is $99 per scan.
Why get a DEXA Body Composition Scan
The DEXA Scan is performed using a GE Lunar Prodigy Advance. This machine exposes the body to 1/10 the x-ray radiation of a chest x-ray. So the exposure is minimal.
DEXA Scan gives you the most precise information about your body fat, muscle, and bone composition, and lets you track changes in body composition over time. Fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and dieters often use body composition scans to get a baseline of where they are now, and to objectively measure their progress.
Scanning every three to six months is a good way to monitor and evaluate your progress.
Some of us need to monitor our bone density or body fat. Athletes want to measure their body fat and muscle composition.
The primary advantage of DEXA Scan over fat estimating devices such as bioimpedance scales, calipers, tape measure, or displacement estimate devices such as hydrostatic dunk tank or Bod Pod is that the DEXA Scan is actually measuring your body fat and giving you precise measurements.
DEXA Scan gives you precise measurements of fat and muscle distribution around your body.
The DEXA Scan scan also shows muscle asymmetries between your left and right sides. These asymmetries throw weight distribution off, cause muscle miscoordination, and create unnatural stresses that lead to injury.
As a true body composition analysis, you can track potentially dangerous visceral fat around your vital organs. This cannot be done with any of the other body composition measurement tools.
You get a better sense of where you are now. And you can track the improvement over time.
For the average amateur runner like me the DEXA Scan can be very helpful.
Getting a DEXA Scan
DEXA scans are available in most major US, Canadian and UK cities. Many large hospitals also offer them to track the bone density of their older patients.
Check here to find the office offering the scan closest to you. Enter your zip or postal code, or use the map.
Check here for how to prepare for your scan and what to expect during your scan.
My DEXA Scan and results
I became interested in body composition several years ago. In 2012 I wrote about the different tests available in a post titled “What’s Your Number?”
You can perform a BMI calculation online or your doctor may provide your BMI at your annual physical. However, the BMI is imprecise and measures body mass, not body composition.
Over the past 15 years, my weight has fluctuated between 175 and 185lbs. When I began running in January of 2003, my weight was 203 on the bathroom scale. In 2014 I trained all year and ran three marathons and my weight dipped to 169lbs briefly.
When I went for my DEXA scan the office scale had me at 188lbs but the DEXA machine had me at 183lbs. I’m also shrinking and am now just under 6′ tall! Between my weight and decreased stature, my BMI was recorded as 25.7. This puts me just into the “overweight” bracket which begins with a BMI of 25.
The DEXA scan gave me the following numbers:
Total Body Mass: 183.7 lbs
Total Tissue: 176.3 lbs
Total Fat: 43.6 lbs
Lean: 132.7 lbs
Bone Mass: 7.3 lbs
Fat Free Mass: 140.1 lbs
Fat Free Mass combines Bone Mass (7.3) and Lean Mass (132.7) to get 140.1 Fat Free pounds.
Currently I am carrying 43.6 lbs of fat on my body. I was shocked to hear that number. That’s almost a bag of cement!
Dividing 43.6 lbs into my Total Tissue Mass (176.3) gives me a body fat composition of 24.7%. Again, this seemed high.
The important part of this analysis is the next part. The DEXA scans measures both Android and Gynoid fat.
Android fat is primarily carried in the belly area while some is also carried in the chest and upper arms.
Android fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, hormonal imbalances, some cancers, sleep apnea, and more.
Some Android fat is subcutaneous (under the skin) and some is visceral and surrounds our organs.
The subcutaneous fats is what we see in the mirror and which hides our six packs, no matter how hard we work to get them.
Our bodies need some visceral fat for normal body functions. But too much of a good thing can cause the variety of issues mentioned above.
My estimated Visceral Adipose Tissue was estimated at 2.85 lbs. I was told this is the fat under my abs and that it should be about 1 lb! Yikes! This much fat in this area is not a good thing.
Gynoid fat refers to the body fat that forms around the hips, breasts and thighs. For men this type of fat is typically not an issue. We didn’t discuss this type of fat in depth, but the technician did say that my legs have a healthy amount of fat.
Next Steps and Moving Forward
My goal is to get to 175 lbs. That means loosing about 8 lbs from where I am now. Since my total body fat is 43.6 lbs I need to loose about 18% of my body fat to reach this goal.
With age it becomes increasingly difficult to loose weight. It also becomes increasingly easy to gain weight.
I employed some dietary restrictions over the holidays and didn’t gain any weight. I also maintained my light running routine. This put me in a good position to reach my goal.
By paying attention to my refined carbohydrate and alcohol intake and increasing my running, I will be able to get to 175 and maybe beyond.
My next steps are to train like I have a number for The Boston Marathon. I’ve also been eating more fruit and nuts instead of corn chips and guacamole. I will also be more diligent avoiding sugar as I have been a little lax over the holidays.
Each time I think about heading to the fridge for an IPA, I think about that 2.85 lb pad of fat between my abs and my intestines. Do I really want to feed that thing?
Knowledge is Power
You don’t know what you don’t know. Getting a DEXA Scan is a lot like getting a blood work up at your doctor’s. Until the blood work comes back you don’t know what your cholesterol or triglyceride levels are. You don’t know what your A1c or vitamin levels are.
You can’t take action and control of your health until you know whats going on inside.
While a DEXA scan may seem expensive, I would encourage you to go at least once. It’s not just knowing how much you weigh that’s important. It’s important to know where you carry your weight so that you can understand your risks and what to do about it.
Run well my Friends,