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Physical Activity in an Old Order Amish Community


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2004 - Volume 36 - Issue 1 - p 79-85
doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000106184.71258.32
BASIC SCIENCES: Epidemiology

BASSETT, JR., D. R., P. L. SCHNEIDER, and G. E. HUNTINGTON. Physical Activity in an Old Order Amish Community. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 79–85, 2004. One method to assess the impact of modern technology on physical activity is to examine a group whose lifestyle has not changed markedly in the last 150 yr. The Old Order Amish refrain from driving automobiles, using electrical appliances, and employing other modern conveniences. Labor-intensive farming is still the preferred occupation.

Purpose The purposes of this study were to characterize the physical activity (PA) levels in an Old Order Amish farming community and to examine measures of adiposity in this group.

Methods Ninety-eight Amish adults (18–75 yr of age) in southern Ontario were studied. Anthropometric variables included height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and percent body fat (% BF). Participants were asked to wear an electronic pedometer for 7 d and to fill out a log sheet on which they recorded steps per day and physical activities. After 1 wk, they returned the pedometers and log sheets and filled out the International Physical Activity Questionnaire.

Results The average number of steps per day was 18,425 for men versus 14,196 for women (P < 0.05). Men reported 10.0 h·wk−1 of vigorous PA, 42.8 h·wk−1 of moderate PA, and 12.0 h·wk−1 of walking. Women reported 3.4 h·wk−1 of vigorous PA, 39.2 h·wk−1 of moderate PA, and 5.7 h·wk−1 of walking. Men had higher levels of energy expenditure than women (P < 0.001). A total of 25% of the men and 27% of the women were overweight (BMI ≥ 25), and 0% of the men and 9% of the women were obese (BMI ≥ 30).

Conclusions The Amish we studied had very high levels of physical activity, which may contribute to their low prevalence of obesity. This group probably represents an upper extreme for “lifestyle PA” in North America today.

1Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN; and

2Department of Anthropology (retired), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Address for correspondence: David R. Bassett, Jr., Dept. of Health and Exercise Science, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1914 Andy Holt Ave., Knoxville, TN 37996-2700; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2003.

Accepted for publication August 2003.

©2004The American College of Sports Medicine