A good friend of mine died suddenly following a heart attack recently. I’m now worried this might happen to me and also feel guilty that I hadn’t done more to warn him. We were a group of friends who grew up together living an unhealthy lifestyle, and never thinking of consequences. I now think it may be too late for me to make changes.

I’m very sorry to hear about the death of your friend. Although you don’t state your exact age, that you knew him for more than four decades means you must be well into middle age or beyond. And I’m afraid to say these are statistically the danger years.

Unfortunately, the word consequence also comes sharply into focus here. The consequence of poor lifestyle choices is often declining health or even early death, and the consequence of getting older is that you have less time to play with. But the good news is that although you can’t change time, you can affect the outcomes of your lifestyle.

Firstly, you must see a doctor. Before you embark on any radical lifestyle changes, you must seek professional guidance to ensure what you undertake suits your particular health circumstances.

Start by taking things one step at a time. Obviously you cannot reverse decades of poor lifestyle choices instantaneously – you’ll only become disheartened and, in all likelihood, injure yourself. I suggest you look at four main areas of your life.

I’ve used a technique that works extremely well on older guys; it’s called Project You. The concept is simple – you treat the changes you’re making or planning to make as a project. You work out a way to tackle each issue at hand, and have a plan of action, with targets, outcomes and deadlines. You may work with a life coach or other professionals for further guidance. But the premise is clear and you need to take it seriously.

In your case, we need to address the following: smoking, diet, exercise and stress. Each of the big four listed here is a potential killer. Depending on the issue, either too much or too little can have devastating results. It’s also important that you take a holistic approach to working on all these areas, so the changes must (and will) complement each other. After all, there’s no point taking a 5km walk and smoking 40 cigarettes a day; eating junk and worrying yourself sick. So your focus should be to tie them together and bring about positive changes.

You mention you fear it’s too late for you to change. This is a common notion that leads to a downward spiral into a worse situation. The fact is, it’s never, ever too late to make positive lifestyle changes. Even tiny ones can add up to bigger and better outcomes. I always say, your journey to change should never solely be about just stopping smoking or losing weight. You should seek to gain health.

You also say you feel guilty about not doing something for your friend. What fitting tribute is there than to make changes in your own life in his name? Why not give a new lease of life to your group of friends by getting everyone involved in this? Why don’t you undertake a charity event as a team? There are many ways to do something – you just need to make them happen.