Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D.
OUR QUEST FOR immortality and staying away from the Grim Reaper – the tall, skeletal specter in a black-hooded robe, who wields a sinister scythe – is as old as history itself. The Grim Reaper, also known as death, eventually catches us all right? And for American adults, that’s typically around 79 years of age.
While some may attribute longevity to genes, they’re certainly not the only factor. Specific lifestyle choices may help you live a longer, healthier life. For example, a daily dose of physical activity is highly effective for preventing and treating many of our most prevalent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. And the health benefits of physical activity are no secret.
Within the past 30 years, there has been an almost global endorsement of the value of physical activity. And we starting to see physical inactivity as one of the five leading global risk factors for death.
Physical inactivity is responsible for 5.8 percent of the burden of coronary heart disease worldwide, ranging from 3.2 percent in Southeast Asia to 11.4 percent in Swaziland and Saudi Arabia. The burden of Type 2 diabetes attributable to physical inactivity is 7.2 percent worldwide, ranging from 3.9 percent in Southeast Asia to 9.6 percent in the Eastern Mediterranean. Worldwide, 10.1 percent of breast cancers and 10.4 percent of colon cancers are attributable to a lack of physical exercise.
Harvard researchers concluded that if all the inactive people in the world were to suddenly get off the couch and start doing a modest level of physical activity, like walking, their estimated gain in life expectancy would be 0.68 years.
In other words, physical activity has the ability to add years to our lifespan. But what if we want to avoid death altogether? According to legend, we will die if the Grim Reaper touches us. So a logical and potentially life-saving question is: How fast do we need to run or walk to stay ahead of the Grim Reaper and avoid death?
Luckily, researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia found the answer to how fast we need to walk to stay ahead of death. To assess the Grim Reaper’s role in mortality and walking speed, these Australian researchers assessed 1,705 healthy men’s walking speed at baseline and then tracked their survival over the five-year study period. Over the course of the study, 266 men met with death.
The researchers found that no men with walking speeds of 1.36 meters per second (which equates to 3 miles or 5 kilometers per hour) or above had contact with the Grim Reaper. In other words, to stay one step ahead of the Grim Reaper, you need to walk at the aforementioned speed.
Although the Grim Reaper is one of the most recognized figures around, that doesn’t mean we are happy to see him when he comes knocking on our door. Indeed, the Grim Reaper eventually comes for us all. But if you are not ready to go, you can just walk away – but make sure you are walking at least 3 miles or 5 kilometers per hour. Looks like investing in comfortable walking shoes may be a good way to cheat death.