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  • Writer's pictureDavid de Souza

How to Reduce Your Risk of Dying Using the 80/20 Principle

What do you think is the most common causes of death? If you are above average in intelligence you may say heart disease, and you wouldn't be wrong:

  1. Heart Disease - 23.1% of all deaths.

  2. Cancer - 21.7% of all deaths.

  3. Accidents (unintentional injuries) - 5.9% of all deaths.

...but averages can paint a misleading picture.

On average, a person has one testicle and one breast.

At 8020 I write about small decisions that have disproportionately large effects, but If you are looking to reduce your chances of dying, it might not be best to focus on heart disease and cancer, here's why:

If you are subscribed to this website, chances are you are: (i) between 25-45, (ii) you don't smoke and (iii) you are relatively healthy.

If this is true, you should drill down and look at the leading causes of death for your specific demographic, not at the average for the entire population.

If we break down the leading cause of death for people who are 25-44 for example, we find:

  1. Accidents/unintentional injuries account for 33.17% of all deaths.

  2. 'Other' accounts for 19.79% of all deaths.

  3. Cancer accounts for 10.89% of all deaths.

Accidents and 'other' are categorized too broadly to be useful, but by drilling down into each individually and finding the most common cause of death we can use this knowledge to decide where to focus.

The top 3 causes of death for 'Accidents/unintentional injuries' are:

1. Poisoning

2. Drowning

3. Motor Vehicle Accidents

Now we are getting somewhere specific and actionable.


1. Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and 4,000 are hospitalized. If you don't already own a carbon monoxide detector, buy one today.

2. Avoid Addictions

Not only do drugs have a huge impact on your happiness, but they are also the leading cause of poisoning, through overdose.


1. Avoid Alcohol Around Water

70% of drownings among adults involve alcohol.

Avoid getting drunk and be aware of the impact that alcohol has on your chances of death, both directly related to drowning and indirectly.

2. Learn to Swim (Well)

I've personally struggled with swimming, but I found having the goal of becoming a certified rescue diver helped to give me something to work towards and a sense of identity which helped to improve my swimming ability. Maybe you could find a similar goal, or use a triathlon as something to work towards to improve your swimming.

If you have struggled with learning to swim, try total immersion swimming.

3. Learn What to Do If You Get Caught in a Rip Tide

Most toddlers drown in home swimming pools, however adults are more likely to die in natural water settings, such as oceans.

Rip currents kill more people than bushfires, cyclones, floods, and shark attacks.

Knowing what to do when caught in a riptide can save your life: Stay calm and swim towards the nearest waves:

Motor Vehicle Accidents:

1. Sleep

Driving when tired is the equivalent of having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05 (0.08 is the legal limit). We pay a price when we don't prioritize sleep, it influences so many areas of our lives, including our happiness, health, and productivity. Don't pay the ultimate price by ignoring your lack of sleep when driving.

2. Alcohol/Drugs

If you're a 160-pound man, 2 drinks within an hour can cause your BAC to reach 0.05. You can legally drive with a BAC of 0.05 but your odds of crashing increase by 100%. At the (US) legal limit of 0.08, your odds have tripled:

3. Avoid Distractions (especially your phone)

We've become addicted to the dopamine hit of checking our phones. We can learn to break this craving by creating a habit of having one day a week when we avoid our phones.

4. Avoid Speeding

An increase of speed of 1mph disproportionately inflates your risk of death by 7%. Ask yourself if that return on investment is a good one?

5. Move Closer to Work

Moving closer to work is one of the best decisions you can make. Not only will it improve your happiness but it will also decrease your odds of dying as commuting is one of the riskiest things you do each day. Moving closer to work will also reduce your expenses and improve your carbon footprint.

6. Avoid Motorcycles

Motorcycling is 26 riskier than driving. If you enjoy motorcycling, could you do it on the weekends and commute during the week by car?

7. Avoid Driving At night and When Wet & Icy

Saturday night from 10 pm until Sunday morning at 3:59 am is statistically the most dangerous time to drive. Poor weather conditions result in approximately 22% of accidents and compound the risk of driving at night.

8. Wear a Seat Belt

37,133 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017 and 47% were not wearing seat belts. 2,549 more lives would have been saved if seat belts were worn.

9. Buy the Safest Car You Can Afford.

The 3 safest cars are: (1) Mazda CX30 - $21,900

(2) Mazda 3 - $21,500

(3) Tesla Model X - $116,700

The Tesla Model X would not only improve your safety but would also have a big impact on your suitability as it is electric. If $116,700 is too much, the Model S is almost half the price and nearly as safe.

The Key takeaway:

The key lesson from this article is to not blindly follow averages, they often tell a misleading story, consider which factors are most relevant to you.

And one final reminder: notice how alcohol plays a role in all 3 areas of drowning, poisoning, and motor vehicle accidents. If you drink (as I do) do so mindfully and avoid getting drunk.

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