Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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How to avoid going to an early grave

The country’s leading killer is heart disease, which is why nutrition, exercise and the perils of smoking get so much attention. Eating well, working out and not smoking all help prevent heart disease.

But other choices can have just as much bearing on your longevity. Want to cut the odds you’ll go to an early grave? Based on cause-of-death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here’s what you need to do:

  • Wear your seatbelt, drive carefully and never drive when you’re sleepy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people in their teens through  mid-3os, and the second leading cause for people in their late 30s and early 40s.
  • Steer clear of narcotics. Accidental overdoses are the leading killer of people in their late 30s and early 40s, and one of the top killers of people in their teens, 20s and early 30s. Accidental overdoses are the third-leading killer of people from 45-54.
  • Get help for mental illnesses. Suicide ranks second among causes of death for people from 25-34, and third for those from 15-24. It’s among the top 10 causes of death for people from 10- to 64-years-old.

Also be smart when you’re in the water or in a high place. Drownings and falls are other top causes of premature death.

As people age, cancer,  heart disease, diabetes and lung disease become more likely to do them in. Of course, you can’t prevent everything, and you certainly can’t prevent death. (As columnist Dr. Christopher Lillis likes to say, the death rate is one per person). But key lifestyle choices — eating well, exercising, not smoking or abusing substances, taking care of your mental health, driving safely – can  help you have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

If you’d like to check out the CDC stats for yourself, morbid though they are, you can find them here: