Old Ways = Active WaysWhile typical North Americans find logging 10,000 steps a day to be a challenge, requiring dedicated walking time to accomplish, the Old Order Amish achieved it with ease with their typical daily activities. In fact, the only day their average dipped as low as 10,000 steps was on Sunday, their "day of rest." The farming community was studied in March at a moderate-activity time rather than high-activity time of year such as during harvest. The Old Order Amish shun any technology developed after the mid-1800's. This pre-electrical, pre-motorized lifestyle involves much physical activity.
Pedometer StudyThe 96 Amish studied wore pedometers for a week and recorded their daily steps and other physical activity. They also calculated the Body Mass Index (BMI) for each participant. Use of the pedometers and scales did not violate Amish traditions because they were borrowed. The participants were men and women, ages 18-75, in an Old Order Amish community in Ontario, Canada. The study was published in the January, 2004 "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise," and conducted by David R. Bassett, Jr. and associates of the University of Tennessee.
High Activity = Lower Body FatNone of the men were obese, and only 2 of the women were obese, an overall rate of 4% obesity as measured as a BMI of 30 or more. This compares to 14.9% obesity rate in Canada and 30.9% in the USA.
Overweight rates were also far below average. Only 26% were overweight, which is half of the rate for Canadians and one third the rate of the USA.
Of note is that the obesity rates for this community do not compare to that of more sedentary Amish communities where they work in tourist shops and furniture factories. In those communities the obesity rate is similar to their non-Amish neighbors. It might be predicted that it is the high-activity farming lifestyle that keeps this Amish community lean.
Eating Like the AmishTheir diet is not low-carb or low-fat. The study says, "The Amish diet is typical of the pre-World War II rural diet. It includes meat, potatoes, gravy, eggs, vegetables, bread, pies, cakes, and is quite high in fat and refined sugar." But it is balanced with a high physical activity level. This is more typical of marathon training or other endurance sport training, where carbs are considered fuel rather than shunned. This Amish community rarely snacks between meals and has limited access to fast food.
Up Your ActivityThe moral of this story: modern lifestyles have greatly reduced our everyday physical activity levels, yet we haven't reduced our food intake to match. To prevent packing on the pounds, we need to move more and eat a little less. We have free programs to get you going.
SOURCE: Bassett DR, Schneider PL, Huntington GE. "Physical activity in an Old Order Amish community." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004 Aug;36(8):1447. Author reply 1448.