When you hear the word Amish you probably think of a horse and buggy similar to the picture above. You don’t typically equate them with anything health, wellness or fitness related, I know I sure didn’t. That was until recently when I learnt some surprising information about the Amish and started to consider their lifestyle more. Before we dive into health related information about the Amish and what we might be able to learn about them with regards to living a healthy lifestyle, let’s first describe who the Amish are for those not familiar with them.
According to Wikipedia…
“The Amish, formally the Old Order Amish, are a group of traditionalist Anabaptist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German and Alsatian origins. They are closely related to Mennonite churches, another Anabaptist denomination. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and slowness to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, with a view neither to interrupt family time, nor replace face-to-face conversations whenever possible, and a view to maintain self-sufficiency. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, humility, and Gelassenheit (submission to God’s will), all under the auspices of living what they interpret to be God’s word.“
In the context of this blog post we are going to focus on the part about their “slowness to adopt many conveniences of modern technology”.
Tech can be great, and there is plenty of room for technology in our lives, however when you lack technology what are one of the natural side effects?
To explore the answer to this question let’s look at why the Amish avoid technology and what technologies they do not use.
The reason the Amish avoid technology is because hard work is considered “godly”, therefore anything that reduces the need for hard work would be considered ungodly. In addition some technologies facilitate the separation of community and family. Having a strong community and family are very important to the Amish and anything that takes away from that should be avoided.
Different Amish communities have different rules about which technologies are permitted. Here are what some of the different Amish communities use and do not use.
OK you are probably asking yourself how this is all connected to health?
Before we answer that question let’s see if the Amish are in fact healthy.
In America 31% of adults are obese and 64.5% are overweight. The Amish have an obesity rate of 4% and only 26% are overweight .
The Amish have rates of diabetes of 3.3%, hypertension of 12.7%, and hypercholesterolemia of 26.2%. According from data from NHANES (a collection of studies designed to assess the health of the US population) Americans have a rate of diabetes of 13.2%, hypertension of 37.8%, and hypercholesterolemia of 35.7% .
Amongst Ohio based Amish cancer rates were significantly less when compared to the rest of the Ohio population. The Amish had a 60% less rate of all cancers. This might be partly due to their lack of tobacco use, but can’t be completely explained by that alone .
What about the diet of the Amish?
First the Amish are consuming mostly their own foods, meaning they get a vast majority of their food from their own farms and not from restaurants or grocery stores .
Here are some highlights of how the Amish eat .
- Their diet contains a lot of whole fat unpasteurized dairy products.
- They consume less than the 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day that is recommended for a healthy diet.
- They consume significantly more smoked and cured meat since they lack technology to preserve fresh meat.
- 55% of male Amish consume less than 1 alcoholic beverage a week and 85% of Amish females report never drinking.
- Amish males consume more than one serving of cake, cookies, or sweets per day and also consume nearly 3 servings a day of refined carbohydrates
- Amish males consume more saturated fat than non-Amish males
- The mean caloric intake of Amish males is 2766 calories which was comprised of 343g of carbohydrates.
In summary, they are not avoiding all processed foods, they are not eating low fat or avoiding saturated fats, they are not consuming a ton of alcohol, they are not eating a boat load of vegetables, they are not low-carb, and they are not eating a low calorie diet.
Here is one other amazing piece of information….
Amish men maintain a body fat of 9.4% and women maintain a body fat of 25%! (Consider also that Amish females have an average of 7 children.)
The average American male has a body fat of 28% and females have a body fat percentage of 40% .
So despite not eating “clean”, doing keto, paleo, low-carb, carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, intermittent fasting or any other “diet” they somehow maintain a very low body fat percentage and have superior health when compared to the average American!
While we can’t say for sure, my hunch is that it has to do with their value of “hard work”. On average Amish men are taking 18,425 steps a day and Amish women are taking 14,196 steps per day . That is just steps according to a pedometer, it doesn’t account for the hard physical labor that a pedometer won’t capture.
However I don’t think it has all to do with their physical activity, it’s the downstream effect of prioritizing hard work, community, and family..
We know for example that physical activity results in more time outside, better sleep, and more muscle mass, all of which help optimize body composition. We also know that physical activity is important in combating nearly every chronic disease modern Americans face today from diabetes, to cardiovascular disease, to cancer. Then there is the prioritization of community and family, which help with all aspects of mental health and stress.
Essentially the rejection of modern technologies in favor of hard work and community leads to less ancestral mismatches in sleep, diet, social connection, movement, exercise, and stress. The Amish have chosen this lifestyle for religious reasons, and we know how powerful religious beliefs are, they can be a very strong motivator.
Do we need to reject modern technology in the name of religion to achieve the same level of health?
No, I don’t think so.
What we need to do is to make sure we don’t let modern technology introduce ancestral mismatched into our lives and find a motivator to make it stick!.
We are not all going to go back to doing hard physical labor each day, most of us will have desk jobs. That doesn’t mean we can’t move our bodies, get outside, interact with others, eat whole foods, or get good sleep. Instead we might need to consciously plan some walks, schedule some workouts, plan nights out with friends, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and develop a sleep routine. We just need to be more intentional and more mindful about our decisions and how they impact our health.
This is why I put out the content I do. I want to help you find the right way to eliminate ancestral mismatches in a way that works for YOU! If you want to learn more and are ready to make the changes necessary to reach your goals, sign up for my newsletter using the form below and I will email you all the content I put out so you can put it to work for you ASAP!
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