According to an Australian study, lack of exercise is the biggest risk factor for heart disease in women aged 30 and above.
If all over-30s followed recommended guidelines on exercise, nearly 3,000 lives could be saved each year in Australia alone, say researchers.
More needs to be done to warn women of inactivity, as it outweighs other risk factors such as obesity, they say.
A team at the University of Queensland, Australia tracked the health of more than 30,000 women born in the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s.
They found smoking had the greatest impact on women’s heart disease risk below the age of 30.
However, as women got older and more gave up smoking, it was overtaken by physical inactivity as the dominant influence on heart disease risk.
Continuing efforts to encourage people to stop smoking were warranted, the researchers reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
But they said greater effort were needed to promote exercise, which they describe as a “Cinderella” risk factor compared with obesity.