Carried out by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario, Canada, the team of researchers looked at survey responses from 45,443 adults participating in the 2011-12 Canadian Community Health Survey.
The survey asked participants about eight known risk factors for heart attack that people can change, including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and poor diet.
These eight factors -- along with high cholesterol, which was not included in the survey -- account for 90 percent of heart attack risk.
During the survey participants were also asked if they believed if "there is anything you should do to improve your physical health?"
The results showed that 73.6 percent responded that there was something they should do to improve their health, with 90.7 percent of those participants identifying a specific change, reporting that they wanted to quit/reduce smoking, exercise more, lose weight or eat better.
81.1 percent who wanted to make a change also said they intended to improve their health within the coming year.
However, nearly one in five (17.7 percent) of those at the greatest risk of cardiovascular disease -- with 5 or more risk factors -- reported that they did not feel a need to improve their health.
Although many participants agreed that health improvements were needed, more than half of those reported barriers which stopped them from making these changes, most commonly lack of self-discipline, work schedule and family responsibilities.
Senior study author Benjamin Hibbert believes the take-home message from the research is that although knowing the risk factors motivate some to make positive lifestyle changes, it doesn't work for everyone, and a better understanding of these people could help to convince and motivate them to improve their physical health.
The research can be found published online in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.