Men who adopt a healthy lifestyle, including proper exercise and diet, are at a lower risk of heart attacks, a new study finds.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. About 20,721 healthy Swedish men aged 45-79 years were part of the study. They were followed for 11 years. Researchers assessed lifestyle choices of the participants using questionnaire related to diet, alcohol consumption, smoking status, level of physical activity and abdominal adiposity (belly fat).

Researchers found that people who were non-smokers, walked or cycled for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week, had a waist circumference below 95 centimeters, consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, and followed a healthy diet with a regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish had the lowest risk of heart attacks.

Researchers also noted that moderate alcohol consumption led to an estimated 35 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to the high-risk group. Also, not smoking, being physically active and having a low amount of abdominal fat, lowered heart attack risk by 86 percent.

"It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks," said Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, and lead author of the study, in a press statement. "What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors."

"It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health," Akesson said. "However, the best thing one can do is to adopt healthy lifestyle choices early in life."

Findings were published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.