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A third of us will die before we reach 75

We can’t help it. As we get older, suddenly the idea of our own mortality raises its head. Inevitably we encounter death among friends and relatives and the idea that we don’t live forever begins to become more prominent in our thoughts.

Despite the tremendous advances in diagnosis and treatment, one in three deaths in England for instance are before the age of 75.

Three years ago the Secretary of State for Health set out a Call to Action to reduce levels of premature mortality. A new report is due out later this year and Laterlife will of course publish the key findings, but at the moment the Department of Health estimates that two thirds of these so called premature deaths are avoidable.

Interestingly, more than three quarters of these premature deaths are as a result of five main problems:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • respiratory disease
  • Liver disease

Most of us know now that leading an unhealthy lifestyle; smoking, drinking too much alcohol, a poor diet, being overweight and lacking physical activity can all contribute to an early death. Interestingly though, gender, social class and geography also have an influence. Your chance of dying before you reach 75 is higher if you are male, working class, live in the North, are disabled or if you are form an ethnic minority group. People in affluent areas tend to live seven years longer than people in poor neighbourhoods.

There is an interesting map on Public Health England’s Longer Lives website which shows the level of premature deaths in each county. At the moment this only covers England but Laterlife will try and find out about the statistics for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and come back on that.

The government’s Call to Action report also covers basics for each of the leading causes of premature deaths.

More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Although there are more than 200 different types of cancer, lungbreastprostate and bowel cancer account for more than half of cases.
According to Cancer Research UK, an unhealthy lifestyle is the root cause of about a third of all cancers.

Smoking causes almost all lung cancer. Poor diet has been linked to bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer and oesophageal cancer. And heavy drinking has been implicated in the development of breast cancer.

Taking up offers of screening can help save lives. Breast cancer screening and cervical cancer screening are believed to save 1,300 and 4,500 lives a year respectively and bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%.

It is also thought that the newly introduced abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening will reduce the death rate from ruptured AAAs among men aged 65 and over by up to 50% and prevent around 2,000 premature deaths a year.

Heart disease
The medical profession generally say that most cases of premature death from heart disease are preventable. Smoking, being overweight, having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, heavy drinking and physical inactivity are all key risk factors.

For anyone over 40, ask your GP about the NHS Health Check, a free five-yearly mid-life MOT to look for things like high blood pressureand high cholesterol. Exercise reduces your risk of heart attack by 30%; for our age aerobic exercise like walking, swimming and cycling are particularly useful. Being overweight puts a strain on your heart, so diet and weightloss are important elements here.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in England each year and the leading cause of disability. More than 150,000 people have a stroke every year in the UK but, according to The Stroke Association, up to 10,000 of these could be prevented if more people were aware of the symptoms and sought out emergency treatment quickly. It is important at our age to know the symptoms of stroke, usually listed under the word FAST standing for:

  • Facial weakness (can the person smile, has the face dropped on one side)
  • Arm weakness (can the person raise both arms and keep them there)
  • Speech problems (can the person speak clearly and understand what you say, is their speech slurred)
  • Time to call 999 and emergency help.

High blood pressure is a key cause of stroke. Almost one in three people in England have high blood pressure and nearly half of them aren’t receiving any treatment for the condition, according to the British Heart Foundation. A good way to help reduce high blood pressure is to reduce your salt intake.

Respiratory disease
Respiratory disease covers a variety of conditions ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a common cause of death and avoidable. Most cases (around 85%) are caused by smoking. The other 15% of cases are triggered by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dusts in the air we breathe.

Liver disease
Liver disease is on the increase in England with a 20% increase in cases over the last decade. The disease develops silently and many people have no idea there’s anything wrong until they develop liver failure and it’s too late.The three main causes of liver disease are heavy drinking, obesity and viral hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). More than a third of men and over a quarter of women regularly exceed the recommended level of alcohol intake.

Really all this simply reiterates the advice that we receive regularly from many different sources…try to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible and this really will make a difference.

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