What it's like to get a DXA Scan

Why did I do a DXA Scan? 

I consider myself a physically healthy person- I try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, watch what I eat, and have at least 3 Lululemon items in my wardrobe. [Since I am a crazy person,] I also weigh myself constantly, and use an app linked to my 1byonewellness scale to keep track of my body fat %.

The app constantly tells me I am overweight (based on my BMI), so I wanted to do a truly accurate body composition test to see if my $20 scale is worth it and as a general diagnostic of my health. My sister suggested I try a DXA Scan.

What is a DXA Scan?

A DXA Scan (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) is "the gold standard test for body composition," and uses an extremely small [less than 1/10 of a standard x-ray] radiation to determine bone density, fat, and muscle mass. (http://www.radiologyinfo.org)

How did I book the Scan?

I decided to do my scan with the UC Davis Sports Medicine Center in Sacramento, called the office, and scheduled an appointment 3 weeks later. They emailed me a set of instructions and a questionnaire, and told me I would pay $75 at the desk.

How did I prepare for the Scan? 

DXA Scans are done in the morning, and mine was scheduled at 10 AM. The instructions said to drink lots of water the night before and the morning of the scan. No food or other drinks are allowed for 3 hours before the test. I also avoided exercising for 12 hours before the scan, which was fine since I rarely workout past 10 PM anyways. I did not drink alcohol, caffeine, or take any calcium supplements 24 hours before the scan.

What is the DXA Scan Process? 

I took off my shoes, changed from my Uniqlo jeans into disposable hospital shorts, and took off all metal that was on my body: my Apple watch, my phone, my keys, and my wallet. They took my weight and height, and then I laid down on the bed:

I had to lie within the black lines, and the staff member tied my feet together so they wouldn't cramp. Then they turned on the machine, and stayed still for 6 minutes as the contraption slightly shook the bed and scanned every inch of my bod. I accidentally looked into the little black laser thing, and then read the yellow warning labels that said not to look directly into the black laser -_-. I looked at patterns on the ceiling, pondered life, and a few minutes later it was all over. I changed back into my normal clothes, waited until they input data, and then sat down for my consultation.

What did I get out of the Scan? 

The number one thing I was looking forward to was a picture of my body composition, and I got it:

It was interesting to see all my bones, my alignment, and all the areas of fat in my body. Overall, the staff told me I was barely in the healthy range for body fat, that I had a healthy amount of muscle, and my bone density was average. I forgot to ask about the alignment of my clavicle, but I was semi-tense so hopefully it's not as V shaped as it appears to be.

Of some concern to the staff member was my android/gynoid ratio, which was .22 higher than the recommended. Basically, he told me I need to lose fat around my hip and butt, and I need to watch my insulin level by eating less sugar, sleeping more, and being less stressed.

The Scan gave very precise measurements for each segment of the body, allowing lots of possibilities for data interpretation. The staff member was able to tell I was right-handed, but also noted some concern with my left leg having more lean muscle than my right leg, so he advised me to try standing on my right leg more. Although my body fat % was a even 20, my body parts all varied.

With some measurements, they are able to also calculate resting metabolic rate. They also provided me a nice bar graph breaking down body composition:

At first, I was stressed that my body fat was in the upper-range of healthy, that my hips were fat, and that staff members told me I was essentially average. While there is always room for improvement, I am still grateful for my health and realized that I am actually close to being "athletic" despite working a sedentary office job: athletes can have up to 18% body fat, and I just need to up my muscle mass 2.4% more to be considered "athletic." Also, the measurements are relative based on the "NHANES Classic White Male," so maybe these health measurements can be more inclusive of other races and body types.

Overall, I learned a lot from doing a DXA Scan, and am even more inspired to take better care of my body and health.


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