A fear of dying is something that we pretty much all have in common and that motivates a great deal of our actions. No one wants to die and that’s why we try to live healthily, to build safe and secure homes and to avoid activities that put us at unnecessary risk.
However, very few of us really realise just what we are under the most threat from. Most of us will try to avoid guns, knives, snakes, explosions and fights in a bid to stay alive and well, but statistically none of those things are particularly likely to kill us. So if we want to stay alive longer and look after ourselves, we really should be looking elsewhere. Here, we will look at what the most common causes of death are and how we can keep them at bay a little longer.
1) The Number One Killer… Cardiovascular Disease
The number one killer by far is one that may not surprise you: cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for a whopping 29% of all deaths. Eventually, for many of us it comes down to running out of heart beats. While this may sound inevitable though, there are in fact many ways you can promote good heart health and thus reduce your risk of dying from this particular problem.
Exercise is one good solution here which can help to strengthen the heart and so make its job easier (the heart is a muscle). Likewise eating healthily – getting lots of fibre and avoiding fat in particular – can help you to keep your blood pressure down and again avoid heart problems.
A different strategy that works for many people is to try and avoid habits that are detrimental to heart health. Here one of the most obvious and drastic examples is smoking, which is almost guaranteed to shorten your lifespan. However you want to do it, looking after your ticker is the number one way to avoid the reaper. Note that cardiovascular disease also includes strokes in this definition.
2) Infectious Diseases
Following heart attack there are a number of different conditions that are commonly causes of death. The next biggest category following heart disease is ‘infectious disease’ which includes any bacterial infection and accounts for 23% of deaths. The biggest causes of death among these infectious diseases however are lower respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia or acute bronchitis) which account for 6.9% of deaths, followed by HIV/AIDS (4.9%), diarrheal diseases (3.2% – dangerous because they cause dehydration), tuberculosis (2.7%) and malaria (2.2%). Many of these are more common in developing countries, though they are still big problems in the Western world. The only defence is to keep your immune system strong, to get lots of sleep, to eat healthily and to practice good hygiene (and safe sex!). It’s also important to use vaccines and antibiotic where recommended.
Behind heart disease and infectious disease, comes cancer or ‘malignant neoplasms’, which cause around 13% of deaths around the world. Again there’s no way to guarantee you will be safe from cancers but the same generally healthy living can keep you safer. What you can do though, is to once again avoid risk factors such as smoking or working around dangerous fumes. Sun worshipping is also a risky behaviour. On top of this, eat foods that are high in antioxidants (particularly resveratrol-containing red grapes and wine) and you can help to protect your cells from damage and thereby reduce your chance of developing cancer.
More important than your diet and lifestyle, is simply to be vigilant and to look out for warning signs of cancer. By going to your doctor when you see tell-tale bumps or blood in your stool, you can catch the problem early and drastically increase your chances of survival.
4) Respiratory Disease
Respiratory disease is a term that includes a range of conditions affecting the lungs and respiratory tract. These conditions include inflammatory lung diseases, obstructive lung diseases and tumours. Again, the number one way to prevent these sorts of conditions, which together account for 6.49% of deaths, is to avoid smoking. At the same time, you can also benefit from trying to strengthen your lungs and from reducing your inhalation of other fumes and toxins. Moving to the sea could very well extend your lifespan!
5) Accidental Death
It’s not until this far down the list that we come to anything other than disease as the cause of death. Still though, a shocking 6.23% of injuries are caused through accidents with the most common being road traffic accidents (2.09%), falls (0.69%), drowning (0.67%) and poisoning (0.61%). The sad thing is that many of these deaths are perfectly preventable – if only people would pay more attention. Avoid rushing, avoid being over tired and make sure to keep a close eye on health and safety around your workplace and around your home. With traffic accidents being such a common cause of death, it’s also apparent just how important it is to avoid dangerous driving. This also rather defeats the often misquoted statement that ‘most accidents happen in the home’. Turns out they actually happen on the road more often…
6) Perinatal Conditions
Perinatal conditions are complications with pregnancy in the lead up to birth. These are responsible for 4.32% of deaths, often in developing countries. Work closely with your doctor and heed their advice, while being sure to stay on the lookout for signs and symptoms that something may be wrong. Complications are more common in older parents, so having children younger is one way to stay safer.
Diabetes causes a great number of deaths each year (1.73% to be precise) and although there is a strong genetic element, it can be managed, treated and prevented. To avoid developing diabetes it’s important not to overindulge in sugar, while being strict with insulin etc. once diagnosed can help prevent unnecessary deaths later on.
8) Digestive Diseases
This category refers to all diseases pertaining to the gastrointestinal tract – the intestines, the rectum, the liver, the pancreas and the gall bladder etc. These conditions cause 3.45% of diseases and can be somewhat prevented through the right diet (high fibre, lots of water) and physical activity. Drinking is to be avoided as is the overuse of medication.
9) Intentional Injury
It’s shocking to think that 2.84% of deaths are caused intentionally whether through war, violence of suicide. The only way to avoid these kinds of deaths is to stay safe (avoid known problem areas), to keep your wits about you and to practice maintaining a happy and inoffensive outlook so that you stay happy and keep those around you happy too. As an added bonus, being happy can also strengthen your immune system which can help to combat numbers 1-5 on this list…
10) Maternal Conditions
More complications can arise during pregnancy or several days following the termination of a pregnancy. Sometimes this is due to an existing health condition. Overall these deaths account for 0.89% of all deaths.
11) Congenital Abnormalities
This is at least one item on this list that you may be completely safe from. Congenital disorders are those existing from birth or that develop during the first month of life (these are neonatal diseases). These account for 0.86% of deaths – well done for dodging that bullet!
12) Neuropsychiatric Disorders
This includes mental disorders affecting the central nervous system and contributes 1.95% of deaths. The most common example is Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some studies suggest that you can help to combat against these with the right diet (high in fatty acids etc.) and through constant use of your higher order cognitive abilities. However, Terry Pratchett is proof enough that use alone can’t guarantee against them.
13) Diseases of the Genitourinary System
Your genitourinary system is essentially your reproductive/urinary system. Diseases affecting this area cause 1.49% of deaths and include things such as nephritis and prostatic hyperplasia.
14) Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies can come about in a number of ways and while malabsorption and anorexia may be responsible for some of these deaths, the main cause is hunger. Nutritional deficiency causes 0.85% of deaths – the vast majority of which should be preventable.