More must be done to encourage exercise in women over the age of 30, experts have said after new research found that physical inactivity is potentially the greatest risk factor in developing heart disease for these women.
Experts compared a lack of exercise to other well-known risk factors for heart disease including a high body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure and smoking and found that physical inactivity carried the greatest risk.
The finding prompted the researchers to call for a greater effort in promoting physical activity among women aged 30 and over.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined thousands of women taking part in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health.
Researchers looked at smoking rates, prevalence of inactivity and high blood pressure and whether or not the women were overweight.
After analysing the risk factors, they found that from age 30 until the late 80s, low physical activity levels were responsible for higher levels of population risk than any of the other factors.
The authors estimated that in Australia, where 1,200 middle-aged and 9,100 older women die from heart disease each year, the lives of around 2,600 women could be saved every year if women did the recommended amount of physical activity - 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.
Commenting on the study, 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."