An inactive life may contribute more to the risk of heart disease than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure, research suggests.

A University of Queensland study has found that lack of exercise creates a greater risk of heart disease in women over 30 than the traditional main factors.

The study shows that women’s risk factors for heart disease change over their lifetimes, adding some extra subtlety to the base of knowledge for avoiding potentially-deadly conditions.

“Smoking has the greatest impact below the age of 30,” said Professor Wendy Brown, who undertook the research with colleague Dr Toby Pavey.

“As women get older and more give up smoking, physical inactivity became the dominant influence on heart problems across the study population,” Professor Brown said.

“Continuing efforts to encourage people to stop smoking are warranted, but much more emphasis should be placed on physical inactivity.”

The British Journal of Sports Medicine published the results this week.

The latest research was based on evidence gathered in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health[], which has been tracking the health of more than 32,000 women for 18 years.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in high-income countries, and smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and physical inactivity together account for more than half the global prevalence.

Professor Brown said national programs for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity – across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood – deserved a much higher public health priority than they have now.

“If all over-30s followed recommended exercise guidelines — 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week — the lives of more than 2600 middle-aged and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone,” she said.

Professor Brown is the lead author of the evidence review for the new Australian physical activity guidelines released in February. The guidelines recommend adults should accumulate between 150 and 300 minutes per week of at least moderate intensity physical activity.