More people have been following doctor's orders to eat healthily, smoke less and exercise longer... and the reward is a big drop in the number of people dying from heart disease and strokes

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Hurray, a good-news health story for a change. Latest official statistics show that the death rate in England and Wales in 2011 was the lowest ever, and that deaths from the big killer diseases are also falling rapidly.

The figures for deaths from cardiovascular diseases such heart attacks and strokes are spectacular – a 44 per cent drop in 10 years. There’s also been a reduction in cancer mortality rates.

A lot of this is down to improved techniques in screening, medical procedures and more effective drugs, such as statins which lower harmful blood cholesterol. But doctors acknowledge that personal behaviour is contributing too, with more people following advice to eat healthily, drink less, stop smoking and exercise more.

Sadly, however, the improvements aren’t uniform. There’s a big divide between better off and poorer parts of the country where older people, especially, may be less likely to access good healthcare and/or eat cheap junk food, drink and smoke more.