Men Who Step Lively May Outpace Grim Reaper

Tongue-in-Cheek Study Determines the Reaper's Walking Speed

By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 15, 2011 -- Older men who walk at least 3 miles an hour need not fear the Reaper. They stay ahead of him and tend to outlive guys who move along at a slower pace, new research reveals.

In the study, published in the Christmas issue of the journal BMJ, Australian scientists attempted to nail down the Grim Reaper's walking speed. (The usually straitlaced journal loosens up this time of year with offbeat scientific papers like this one.)

While the Grim Reaper is a fictitious symbol of death, other studies have shown that how fast older people walk helps predict how long they may expect to live. Slower walking speeds in older age have been linked to a greater risk of death, while swifter strides have been associated with a longer life.

Older men and women who can pick up the pace are likely healthier and fitter than adults who move more slowly.

So the Concord Hospital research team in Sydney set out to predict the pace of the skeletal figure in the long black robe. By knowing this, they reasoned, they'll find out how fast men need to hoof it to stay out of the Reaper's grasp.

To do this, they looked at data from more than 1,700 healthy Australian men who were 70 or older. Roughly half of them were born in Australia, about 20% were Italian, and the rest came from other countries.

Each man was asked to walk at their usual pace for about 20 feet. They were clocked twice over this distance with their best time recorded.

Too Quick for the Reaper?

During the five-year study, 266 men died. When the researchers looked at the walking speeds of these men, they were able to estimate the pace of the cloak-shrouded Reaper.

They suspect he's likely to catch up to those fellows who amble along at about 1.8 miles an hour or less.

"We predict that this is the likely speed at which the Grim Reaper prefers to [walk] under working conditions," write the researchers.

Their results also found that older men who could walk faster than 2 miles an hour were 1.23 times less likely to meet up with death.

But the men who had the biggest leg up on the Reaper were those with the quickest steps. All 22 of the men who walked at a pace of at least 3 miles an hour were still alive five years later.

"The faster speeds are protective against mortality because fast walkers can maintain a safe distance from the Grim Reaper," say the researchers in a news release.


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SOURCES: Stanaway, F. BMJ, published online Dec. 15, 2011.News release, BMJ.

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