A lack of exercise is a bigger cause of heart disease in women over 30 than smoking, researchers have found.
Researchers found that in the rankings of causes of heart disease in women, once they are over the age of 30, a lack of exercise becomes more important than smoking.
Women around that age are giving up smoking as they start a family and that makes them less likely to take enough exercise, the researchers said.
This means that fewer women are smoking but more are becoming inactive, making that the bigger problem for society, they said.
The findings from the University of Queensland in Australia were published British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Professor Wendy Brown, at Centre for Research on Exercise, Physical Activity and Health, said: “Smoking is serious but it is only serious if you keep doing it. In Australia women tend to give up smoking and the rates drop sharply after the age of 30 when women are getting pregnant and that is when physical activity gets worse.”
The study followed 32,154 women and found that the proportion of women smoking in their 20s was more than one in four but this dropped to around one in 20 by the time they were in their 70s.
The proportion of women who were inactive increased with age.
They calculated that if all women aged between 30 and 90 did half an hour of brisk walking per day then 2,000 lives could be saved in Australia annually.
Prof Brown said a similar number could be saved in the UK as the populations, smoking rates and exercise rates were alike.
“Our data suggest that national programmes for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now,” she said.
Thembi Nkala, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We already know physical inactivity is a 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.
“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. Speak to your GP or Practice Nurse if you have any concerns about your heart health.”