Walk Like the Amish to Beat Obesity

Pedometers Show High Step Count, Low Obesity

Amish Walking
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How many steps per day are enough to keep you trim and prevent obesity? A pedometer study of an Old Order Amish community showed that their average man logged 18,000 steps per day and their average woman logged 14,000 steps per day, and they had one of the lowest rates of overweight and obesity of any community in North America.

A second study found that the youth in this community (ages 6 to 18) logged an average of 15,563 steps per day. In contrast to the growing problem of childhood obesity in the general population, being overweight was rare for these Old Order Amish youths. Only 7.2 percent were overweight, and only 1.4 percent were obese.

Old Ways Are Active Ways

While 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 the month of March, which is a moderate-activity time, rather than a 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.

The 96 adult Amish and 139 youths 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 adult participants were men and women, ages 18-75, and the youths ages 6-18 in an Old Order Amish community in Ontario, Canada.

High Activity Equals Lower Body Fat

None of the men were obese, and only two of the women were obese, an overall rate of 4 percent obesity as measured as a BMI of 30 or more. This compares to 14.9 percent obesity rate in Canada and 30.9 percent in the USA.

The number of adult Amish who were overweight was also far below average. Only 26 percent 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.

The study of the Amish youth sought to give clues as to why children in modern communities are showing increased numbers for those overweight and obese. Studies have shown that 12,000 steps per day equals the recommended amount of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The Amish youths were exceeding this number, on average.

While the general population of children in the U.S. has an obesity rate of 18.5, in these Amish children the rate was only 1.4 percent.

Eating Like the Amish

The diet of Old Order Amish 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 sports 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 Activity

The moral of this story is that modern lifestyles have greatly reduced everyday physical activity levels, yet people haven't reduced their food intake to match. To prevent packing on the pounds, you need to move more and eat a little less. There are simple ways to get you going.

  1. Buy a pedometer or fitness band or start checking your step totals via a phone app.
  2. Log or check your steps. Find out how many steps are typical for you on an average weekday and weekend day.
  3. Increase your steps by 2000 per day. Add more steps incrementally with a goal of achieving at least 10,000 steps per day.
  4. Improve your diet and nutrition. Make your calories count with nutrient-dense foods and ensure you aren't eating too much for your activity level.
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