LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

About one in every four deaths in the United States is related to heart disease and experts want to make sure everyone is aware that it can happen at any age.

According to the American Heart Association, about every 34 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack.

Tim Ritter suffered a heart attack in November of last year at the age of 46. Experts say it’s important to know the warning signs so you can get help right away because everyone’s experience is different. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, while others are slow and progress over time. Ritter said he never saw it coming.

"At first when I woke up, I just felt like I had the flu or something. I took the kids to school and as the day went on I felt worse, then by early afternoon, I started getting chest pains and it started going down my arm,” said Ritter.

Statistics show more than 700,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack every year and for about 200,000 of those people, it's their second attack or more. However, it only took one for Tim to make a change to save his life.

About two months after Ritter’s heart attack, he completely changed his lifestyle for the better.  He said his motivation is his three young children.

“It’s not really a choice, you either do it or you die,” said Ritter.

“He definitely had some heavy risk factors coming in the door,” said Heidi Ramsey, an exercise physiologist with Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. 

Ramsey said Tim’s former lifestyle increased his risk of a heart attack.

“Using tobacco increases your chance, eating a poor diet that is high in fats and processed foods,” said Ramsey.

Now Tim eats a healthy diet, exercises on a regular basis and has quit smoking. Ramsey said it has a lot to do with hard work, but even more to do with attitude.

“This disease is something that they have a lot of power over, which I tell them is a good thing.  Those are the things that take initiative to do and he has been having super outcomes,” said Ramsey.

“I guess you got a choice to make. That’s the way I look at it. I could have went the other way and said screw rehab and screw this, I’m just going to go back to the way I was. I probably wouldn’t be here right now, who knows,” said Ritter.

Giving up for Ritter was not an option because he has three young children at home who need him.

“I look at it like I get a second chance at life. I mean I could have died that day,” said Ritter. “They want dad around a long time and dad wants to be around a long time.”

According to the American Heart Association, heart and blood vessel diseases are the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

Click here for more information about the common signs of a heart attack.