How You Will Die

Illustration: Gray’s Anatomy

Every time the flight attendants act out their safety instructions, I feel as though I’m partaking in something risky. Odds of dying in a plane crash: 1 in 400,000.*

Meeting one’s demise at another’s hands isn’t an uncommon fear, but it also isn’t that likely. Your probability of getting murdered: 1 in 16,500. (Perhaps higher in Detroit.)

Meanwhile, we may all be free of ever needing to ask Bruce Willis and Bill Bob Thornton to detonate a bomb on a rogue hunk of space-rock. Apparently, the lifetime risk of a catastrophic asteroid strike has dropped to around 1 in 200,000. Whew!

While few of the above would be pleasant ways to check out, neither do they represent significant threats. What’s bewildering, is that we concern ourselves with these improbable fears, while ignoring the most conceivable ones.

Taking top spot on the list of things that will kill you? Heart disease. No plane wrecks, hostage taking, or outer-space thrills—just a boring old case of the pump getting clogged.

Like so many things in life, we complicate matters by treating edge cases as high probabilities, while skipping the obvious (and easy to remedy).

The good news? By leaving work early, walking home the long way, and enjoying a good dinner, you’re taking direct action against public enemy number one. Isn’t it a pleasant surprise to find a remedy so appealing?


The risk ratios above are based on per-year calculations. These numbers shift over a lifetime (and seem to vary greatly depending on the source). For the sake of this post, I utilized data from the article Don’t Be Terrorized by Ronald Bailey.


    1. Yes, probably.

      In my opinion, this comes down to expectations (and choice): a question of whether we want to be remarkably good at something, or experience life more fully.

      Increasingly, I feel that these two things are mutually exclusive… and am finding myself more interested in experience than achievement.

  1. Just take 6-18 grams of regular vitamin C and 3-6 grams of lysine every day and you’ll be just fine. Turns out heart disease is just good old scurvy, argh! And you probably thought my two nobel prizes were impressive.

  2. The odds of dying in a plane crash are actually much lower, 1 in 9,000,000 when you only consider major airlines (and not private planes).

  3. Most people don’t like to hear that their chances of dying are 1 in 1. Bring it up and people physically cringe and turn away. Denial is our strongest emotion and our biggest challenge to overcome.

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