David Tomlinson has suffered two heart attacks in the past 15 years, though he is only 67 years old. Understandably, he's concerned about his health. To ward off high cholesterol and diabetes he started walking every day.
"It was really difficult, because I thought my life was over," Tomlinson told CBS News correspondent Bigad Shaban. "I wanted to live."
According to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 4 out of 5 heart attacks in men are actually preventable when a person makes changes to lifestyle that include maintaining a healthy weight and diet, adopting a regular exercise program, avoiding cigarettes and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum.
The researchers estimate fewer than 2 percent of Americans follow lifestyles considered ideal for cardiovascular health. Approximately 720,000 suffer heart attacks each year.
The study is a retrospective analysis of more than a decade's worth of data on the health and lifestyle habits of 20,000 Swedish men, aged 45 to 79.
"I think the magnitude of reduction of heart attack is really, really tremendous," Dr. Sam Brar, director of vascular and endovascular medicine and a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente, told CBS News. He said when it comes to heart attack risk, even a man who has not taken the best care of himself for most of his life can still benefit from these simple lifestyle changes.
"We know that in patients who have already developed blockages in the artery and have had to have open heart surgery or stenting procedures to fix those blockages, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly increase their life expectancy" said Brar.
Tomlinson seems to be living proof. These days he hikes, eats less meat and more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. He also quit smoking.
"My pants are 5 inches smaller," he said. "I feel better. I don't have pain on a daily basis."