Lack of exercise is the biggest risk factor for heart disease in women aged 30 and above, according to a study.
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.
Lack of exercise is a known major risk factor for heart disease, says the British Heart Foundation.
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.
“We need a lot more effort to keep middle-aged women active and then keep them active into old age,” Prof Wendy Brown, of the university’s centre for research on exercise, physical activity and health, told BBC News.
“If you can do at least 30 minutes and preferably 45 minutes a day, you’ll see huge improvements in your health and reduce your risk of heart disease by half.”
According to NHS Choices, adults aged 19-64 years are recommended to do 150 minutes of weekly physical activity, or 30 minutes on five days a week.
Commenting on the study, Thembi Nkala, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said physical inactivity was a known major risk factor for heart disease.
“Interestingly, this study shows its dominant influence on heart disease amongst women, and suggests a greater need to promote regular physical activity amongst this group,” she said.
“It’s important to remember that heart disease is linked to other factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“It’s essential to manage these too, as the more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of heart disease. “