Although my primary passions are nutrition, fitness and healthy living, I have also taken a keen interest in the Amish culture for many years. In fact, I was offered the amazing opportunity to spend one full week on an Amish Farm in the city of Bird-in-Hand, PA by an Old Order Amish family I’d been corresponding with.
Their culture is fascinating, if the number of tourists who come to visit the Lancaster County is any indication.
Certains elements of their life came as a surprise to me: They have a high level of cardiovascular diseases mainly due to a diet high in saturated fat; they consume an alarming quantity of artificial colorings and flavorings and eat very little fresh food— 90 percent is cooked, fried, or prepared in some way.
That considered, some of their ways would do our modern society good. Here are the 4 habits we can steal from the Amish.
1. Tech-free life
In the evening, there is no watching TV while checking one's email on a laptop with a smartphone in the other hand to send pictures to a friend. Extended family and house visitors spend time together, talking, exchanging, joking, and more seriously, reading the Bible.
This leads to an amazingly restful sleep: No violent images on our retina before closing our eyes, no stressful emails at 10 p.m., no evening news about the latest on the war on terror. The stress of the day has been gently ushered away by the exchanges.
When walking from one house to the next, an Amish is not reading her friends' latest Facebook posts but looks around and connects with people and nature. They are a smiling community and, apart from the usual local grump, you will always receive a warm and happy welcome from the Amish you engage in conversation. This is in part thanks to their lack of constant connection to somebody and somewhere else. They are in the NOW.
To steal: Turn off all connections for one or two hours per day, or for a full day of the week to reconnect with your surroundings, your friends, neighbors and family.
Amish are mainly locavores, as in they eat locally grown food and in-season produce. This means that the fruits and vegetables they consume are supercharged in vitamins and don't have a massive carbon footprint the way cherries in January— which are most likely from Chile— would have.
Being a locavore also means going to the market and buying from people we know, thereby supporting local businesses and agriculture, as well as developing and nurturing bonds with the local community.
Of course, this is not to say that all Amish crops are organic. The Amish have nothing against using pesticides. Over 550 farms and counting are even using GMO seeds.
To steal: Explore your local farmers’ markets. Buy local as much as possible, at the very least, buy seasonal produce. You will see that this approach will save you dollars in the long run—you’ll buy less but you’ll buy well.
True, fewer and fewer Amish are farmers. Only 15 percent, at latest count, get their main source of income from the land. Having said that, the proscribed use of cars or even bikes entices people to use more physical forms of transport such as walking, scooters (these are allowed even in the strictest sects), and buggies— try harnessing a horse before going out and you will see that this burns quite some calories.
Children don't spend their days in front of a TV set or playing on an electronic device. They roam and move around the farm or the house for those non-farming Amish. All in all, they are more active throughout the day.
There are Amish communities, mainly in Indiana, that have an incidence of obesity higher than the national average levels. This is only because the land has become too expensive and they therefore cannot live according to their beliefs and customs. Some of them thus have to turn to factory jobs and a more sedentary lifestyle.
To steal: Our children do not need to be on a phone or an electronic toy to stay occupied. Let them play outdoors, create their own games of “pretend” and discover the world. True, they might fall and hurt themselves in the process, but they will connect with others, learn to pick themselves up and be more active.
Park your car further than usual, use public transport and get off a stop earlier and walk more. Decide to do something crazy such as walking to a friend’s house that might be an hour away on foot. In any case, aim for 10,000 steps a day.
4. Life in the slow lane
True, not being able to fly to a distant city, being precluded from driving and owning a phone helps the Amish live a slower life more connected to nature. In our culture, if I text a friend and she has not responded within two minutes I think she is in a meeting, after four hours, I think she is holding something against me.
In our culture we can get dumped via a text message and we don't visit friends as much anymore, we call or message them. We are afraid that by dropping by unannounced we might disturb.
In our culture we barely write letters any longer…takes too long to write, then too long to receive. We send instant emails and expect instant answers.
We always rush from one meeting to the next, from one activity to the next.
The Amish take it more slowly. They admire nature. They take the time to seize the day and smell the roses. They write chain letters, where each time the letter gets to the recipient, she adds a piece of news from her settlement. Waiting for a response is part of the deal and helps people not be constantly on their toes.
The Amish "visit.” As a matter of fact they even have alternate “off-church Sundays.” The sole purpose is to allow for visits to friends and family members.
Some of the Amish youngsters do not accept this slow life and choose to leave their community to experience the English world. But the Amish community is still growing at a 10 percent rate per year!
To steal: Make time for your friends and relatives. Organize Sunday lunches together. Tell your friends they can always drop by unannounced. If one finally ends up taking you up on your offer make her/him feel as welcome as possible. Start the movement by dropping by Amish style, unannounced but with something homemade, food, juice, a few cut flowers, a small something.
Learn to travel slowly: Go on a long road-trip to your destination instead of flying there. Maybe choose to go less further afield but enjoy the journey for being as much part of the trip as the destination.
Write physical letters and send cards. People like them. You like receiving them too. Make someone’s day by taking the time to lie down a few words on a piece of paper.
As you can see not all of the Amish culture is good to be stolen. But, by adopting the healthiest aspects of their customs, we can make our lives a little bit more meaningful and more connected to our family, friends and community without losing ourselves to the overloaded connected world we are living in.
Valerie Orsoni is a health and wellness expert and the founder of LeBootCamp. She’s the author of LeBootCamp Diet: The Scientifically-Proven French Method to Eat Well, Lose Weight, and Keep it off For Good, which is being released this April.