To investigate the associations between risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, and physical activity in a group of predominantly healthy men. Cohort study with baseline characterisation, clinical follow-up, and identification of predictors of coronary artery disease and diabetes. University hospital metabolic day ward. Participants in a company health programme (n=742). Routine haematology and biochemistry, cholesterol, triglycerides, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (on a subset of 522 subjects), and glucose and insulin levels during a 3 h oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Independent associations with previous cigarette smoking included high uric acid and low HDL cholesterol, and with current cigarette smoking, high haemoglobin and white cell count and low OGTT insulin. Increasing alcohol intake was associated with increasing blood pressure, uric acid, HDL cholesterol and fasting glucose. The moderate range of exercise intensity in this cohort was associated with decreasing systolic blood pressure, fasting insulin and OGTT glucose and insulin. Factor analysis distinguished principal factors comprising features of the metabolic syndrome with low physical activity, and high white cell count, high haemoglobin concentration and low HDL cholesterol with increasing previous and current cigarette smoking and alcohol intake. Some characteristics of the metabolic syndrome were seen with previous but not current smoking habit. Regular alcohol consumption was associated with mainly unfavourable metabolic characteristics, although there was an independent beneficial association with HDL cholesterol. The improved metabolic syndrome profile seen with increasing exercise is consistent with even moderate degrees of physical activity having beneficial effects on metabolism.