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What is a DEXA scan and is it worth it?

The term “biometrics” refers to body measurements and calculations. Essentially, collecting your own biometrics will give you more information about the age of your body and its overall condition. It can also help predict your risk for things like cardiovascular disease and cancer. I like biometrics because it allows me to monitor how I’m doing with things like diet and exercise. One really easy and great biometric for everyone to obtain is a DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan.

Historically, the DEXA scan has been primarily used to measure bone density (the strength and thickness of your bones) to assess risk of osteoporosis and fractures as a person ages. It’s used more often in older individuals at-risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia. However, it reveals other information, as well. Most DEXA scans will also reveal your lean body mass (how much muscle you have, as well as the distribution of those muscles) and your percent body fat. Most will also reveal the amount of visceral fat you have.

Visceral fat refers to the fat around your internal organs. It is more common in men. If you’ve ever known someone with the “beer belly” it is typically a rounded abdomen that is very firm. It’s firm because you are feeling the abdominal muscles, but they are pushed out because of the fat behind them (the visceral fat). Women are more likely to hold subcutaneous fat. This is fat under the skin and can be pinched. Visceral fat can’t be pinched nor can it be addressed with liposuction (because this is fat around the organs!)

Visceral fat is “bad” fat in that it increases risks of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance that can lead to Type II diabetes.

I recently obtained a DEXA scan, and I have some things to work on. My visceral fat amount is a little too high, which I wouldn’t have known without the scan. I wish I had been getting these scans for the past several years as a way to track diet and exercise changes to see which have the most positive effects.

It’s now pretty affordable to get a DEXA scan (mine was $65) and it only takes about 5-10 minutes to do. As far as the cost of other “biometrics” the DEXA scan is very affordable and is quick and painless.

As we age, it’s important to maintain a healthy body weight, but it’s also important to maintain muscle mass. Muscle mass is especially important in the extremities (arms and legs) as this allows for improved balance and grip strength (two things directly correlated with injuries in older people). The DEXA scan will reveal the weight of muscle in your extremities, and will provide ratios of lean muscle mass in your extremities that will allow you to track how you are doing in maintaining that mass.

An ideal scenario would include getting a DEXA scan every 6 months to track progress with diet and exercise. Over several years, that data will help a person track how their body is dealing with progressing age and will help predict how strong their body will be into older age.

The other advantage of tracking body distributions with a DEXA scan is that humans tend to do better when being watched. The fact that you are tracking your visceral fat and lean muscle mass means you are likely to improve those aspects by making healthier food choices and exercising more often, simply because you know you are tracking the result.

So, if you’ve never had a DEXA scan, book one today! It’s a great way to get a baseline that you can later compare. It will give you a quick, affordable insight into your own body’s composition and will let you know where you need to improve!


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