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Americans, in general, underestimate their own mortality.  We live in a world where the statement “It won’t happen to me,” reigns supreme.  The LIFE Foundation discovered in a survey that only five percent of Americans ages 35-44 think they will die before reaching the age of 65 when in reality the typical 35-year-old male has a 17.5 percent chance of dying before age 65.  The LIFE Foundation also discovered in a study that there is a greater than 1-in-6 chance for males and a 1-in-9 chance for females to die between the ages of 25 and 65. What are your odds of dying?

What Will Kill Me?

If you are an avid news watcher or reader, you might think that being killed by an alligator or a terrorist attack is commonplace.  However, the deaths that don’t make headlines are far more common.  Heart disease accounted for 23 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  See the death numbers from 2014 in the table below.

Cause of Death Number of
U.S. Deaths
Rate of Deaths
1. Cardiovascular disease 614,348 193 per 100,000
2. Cancer 591,699 186 per 100,000
3. Chronic lower respiratory disease 147,101 46 per 100,000
4. Accidents 136,053 43 per 100,000
5. Strokes 133,103 42 per 100,000
6. Alzheimer’s disease 93,541 29 per 100,000
7. Diabetes 76,488 24 per 100,000
8. Influenza and pneumonia 55,227 17 per 100,000
9. Drug overdoses 47,055 15 per 100,000
10. Kidney disease 48,146 15 per 100,000
11. Intentional self-harm 42,773 13 per 100,000
12. Septicemia 38,940 12 per 100,000
13. Liver disease 38,170 12 per 100,000
14. Transportation accidents 37,195 12 per 100,000
15. Parkinson’s disease 26,150 8 per 100,000
16. Firearm assault 10,945 3 per 100,000
17. HIV 6,721 2 per 100,000
18. Pedestrian deaths 6,258 2 per 100,000

Can I Prevent Death?

Obviously, you can’t avoid dying, or odds of dying, but you can at least avoid dying by certain means.  Let’s cover the top five causes of death and how you can lower your risk.

Cardiovascular Disease

As mentioned, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the U.S.  Many of these deaths could have been prevented.   Heart disease risks include tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, poor diet, being overweight, and lack of physical activity.  Most, if not all, of these risks can be managed.  The American Heart Association has tips on how you can prevent heart disease, no matter your age.


The odds of dying by cancer are higher. Cancer is the number two killer in the U.S.  Scientists still don’t know all the causes of cancer, but there are ways to lower your risk to certain cancers.  Your lifestyle choices play a big part.  The Mayo Clinic offers seven cancer prevention tips:

  1. Don’t use tobacco
  2. Eat a healthy diet
  3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active
  4. Protect yourself from the sun
  5. Get immunized
  6. Avoid risky behaviors
  7. Get regular medical care

Obviously, you can’t avoid dying, but you can at least avoid dying by certain means.

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Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic lower respiratory diseases are diseases that affect the lungs.  Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two main illnesses that make up the most deadly of respiratory diseases which is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.)

Respiratory diseases can be prevented to lower odds of dying:

  1. Don’t smoke, or quit if you do. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic respiratory diseases like COPD.  Smoking cessation is the most important part of treatment for smokers diagnosed with chronic respiratory disease.
  2. Avoid prolonged time in highly polluted areas. Indoor and outdoor air pollutants can cause respiratory problems.  Air pollution can irritate, inflame, or destroy lung tissue.
  3. Wash your hands. It is estimated that hands spread 80 percent of common infectious respiratory diseases like colds and flu.  Washing hands regularly with soap and water can prevent respiratory infections.


Accidents include a whole range of unintentional injuries and accounted for about 5 percent of all deaths in the U.S. in 2014.  Lowering your risk of dying by accidental means can be chalked up to “think before you act.”  Watch your footing as you climb ladders.  Don’t shake vending machines.  Don’t have both earbuds in as you’re biking or walking along busy streets.  Don’t get too close to wild animals just for photo opportunities.  I could go on, but I won’t.  You catch my drift.


A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails.  Brain cells can die from decreased blood flow and the resulting lack of oxygen.  Not only do strokes rank as the fourth leading killer in the U.S., but it is the most common cause of adult disability.  Some stroke factors cannot be modified, such as family history and race, but there are risk factors that can be worked on.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are seven treatable stroke risk factors:

1. High Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is high, you and your doctor need to work out an individual strategy to bring it down to the normal range.  Maintain proper weight.  Avoid drugs known to raise blood pressure.  Cut down on salt and eat fruits and vegetables to increase potassium in your diet.  Exercise more. Controlling blood pressure will also help you avoid heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure.

2. Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette smoking has been linked to the buildup of fatty substances (atherosclerosis) in the carotid artery, the main neck artery supplying blood to the brain.  Blockage of this artery is the leading cause of stroke in Americans.  By quitting, at any age, you also reduce your risk of lung disease, heart disease, and a number of cancers including lung cancer.

3. Heart Disease

Common heart disorders such as coronary artery disease, valve defects, irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation), and enlargement of one of the heart’s chambers can result in blood clots that may break loose and block vessels in or leading to the brain.  See “Cardiovascular Disease” above for tips on how to prevent it.  To treat heart disease though, doctors often will prescribe medication such as aspirin to help prevent blood clots.

4. Transient Ischemic Attack

While a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is often labeled “mini-stroke,” it is more accurately characterized as a “warning stroke.”  This is a temporary blood clot that lasts typically less than five minutes and usually causes no permanent damage to the brain; however, about a third of people who experience a TIA will go onto have a stroke within a year.  By recognizing TIA symptoms and getting to the hospital, the patient can get help in identifying why the TIA occurred and get treatment – either through medication or surgery – that can prevent a stroke from occurring.

5. Diabetes

Diabetes causes destructive changes in the blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain.  Hypertension is common among diabetics and accounts for much of their increased stroke risk.  Treating diabetes can delay the onset of complications that increase the risk of stroke.

6. Cholesterol Imbalance

Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) carries cholesterol (a fatty substance) through the blood and delivers it to cells.  Excess LDL can cause cholesterol to build up in blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is the major cause of blood vessel narrowing, leading to both heart attack and stroke.  WebMD offers 11 tips to lower your LDL cholesterol.

7. Physical Inactivity and Obesity

Physical inactivity and obesity are associated with many health issues, including strokes.  The American Heart Association lists seven small steps that make big changes.  They refer to it as Life’s Simple 7.  Check them out if you are looking to improve your health.

Staying healthy lowers your risk of dying prematurely, ipso facto, you’re going to pay less for life insurance.  The cost of life insurance is primarily determined based on an applicant’s age and health.  Statistically, the further you are from death, the less you will have to pay in insurance premiums.

We often say that term life insurance is the best solution for most families, in comparison to permanent insurance, because term insurance is affordable and covers the period in a family’s life when they would need protection the most.  This period of time is when the family is just married, or just bought a home, or just started having children.  Considering this timeline, the age span one would typically need life insurance coverage would be late 20s/early 30s to late 50s/early 60s.

Most of us hope to live past age 60 and most of us will regardless of the odds of dying.  So, on the other side of the coin, people wonder “Why would I buy term insurance when the chances of it actually paying out are slim?”  Buying term insurance isn’t an investment.  People who purchase term insurance would rather have it not pay out, actually, because if it does pay out that means you’ve died before your time.  Term insurance is life-saving, however, for those families who lose a husband or wife, a mom or dad too soon.

Again, the statistics say the odds of dying are every one man in six and every one woman in nine will die between the ages of 25 and 65.  It’s these individuals whose families will be able to maintain their lifestyles because of life insurance.  They can continue to put healthy food on the table.  They won’t need to sell their home.  They can still send their children to college.  This is what term life insurance is for.  It’s protection against the what-ifs, no matter the odds.


Photo credit to: Zdenko Zivkovic


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About the writer

Headshot of Natasha Cornelius, a life insurance writer, for Quotacy, Inc.

Natasha Cornelius

Marketing Content Manager

Natasha is a writer and content editor at Quotacy. She is also co-host of Quotacy’s YouTube series. She can't get enough of life insurance and outside of work is also working toward her Chartered Life Underwriter designation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.