Letters The Grim Reaper’s walking speed

Brisk and prolonged daily walking is needed to outpace the Grim Reaper

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e424 (Published 17 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e424
  1. Pierre Abraham, physiologist13,
  2. Garry A Tew, physiologist2,
  3. Paul S Abraham, medical student1,
  4. Alexis Le Faucheur, physiologist3
  1. 1University Hospital, Angers, France
  2. 2Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield S10 2BP, UK
  3. 3UMR, CNRS 6214/Inserm 1083, University of Angers, France
  1. piabraham{at}chu-angers.fr

Stanaway and colleagues reported that 1.36 m/s is the optimal walking speed to avoid the Grim Reaper.1 With the aim of transposing this to clinical practice, we wondered how far Death can walk each day. A minimum of 30 minutes’ daily walking is recommended to achieve health benefits, such as reduced mortality.2 3 But physical activity depends on intensity and duration, and the last American College of Sports Medicine recommendation was 150 minutes a week (around 20 minutes a day) of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week (around 10 minutes a day) of vigorous exercise, or a combination thereof.4

We estimated the Grim Reaper’s walking capacity from Death’s greatest performance: the 14th century great plague in Europe. The plague is assumed to have reached Marseille (France) in February 1348. It progressed to Bordeaux and Paris at a mean speed of 5 miles (8 km) a day (~0.09 m/s).5 This slower speed might be because of a difference in the Grim Reaper’s walking speed between Australia and Europe; an increase in the Grim Reaper’s walking speed since the 14th century because of regular training; the distance walked being much longer; or newer scythes weighing less. None of these explanations can be excluded, but we favour the idea that Death can sustain a fast walk at 1.36 m/s (4.9 km/h), but only for 1.5 hours a day. New Year’s resolutions should include not only brisk but also prolonged daily walking for those wishing to avoid their allotted fate.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e424


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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