When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, Dr. Ali Ghahary says early prevention is key.

While heart disease can and does run in families, diet and exercise also both play a huge factor, especially in childhood. Some of the most common health problems in children that can ultimately lead to developing heart disease include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the build-up of plaque in the arteries.

In order to prevent heart disease, Dr. Ali Ghahary says parents should urge their children and teenagers to live healthy lifestyles.

First and foremost: Exercise. It’s recommended that children get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day. While most schools in Canada require children to be in PE (physical education) classes, that physical education can also go beyond the school and at home. For example, partaking in after-school sporting activities or walking the family dog (if you have one.) Try to keep your child or teenager’s TV and computer time limited to 2 hours per day (unless of course they’re doing homework.) It’s a good way to teach children that staying physically fit is important, but that it can also be fun.

As children develop into teenagers, they’re also more likely to experiment with things they shouldn’t. Smoking, for example, is unfortunately quite common amongst high-schoolers. It’s important to be a role model for your children and teach them that they need to make heart-healthy choices. Let them know the dangers of smoking, ban smoking from your home, and don’t allow them to hang around individuals that might be bad influences on them. Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart disease, and if they start smoking early on it can also do damage to their health at a much younger age.

While high blood pressure is rather uncommon in children, developing it is still a possibility, especially if it runs in the families. If you are aware that high blood pressure does, in fact, run in your family, it’s important to have your child’s blood pressure checked on a regular basis, as children often do not develop any symptoms associated with it. High blood pressure can also develop in children as a result of certain health conditions such as heart or kidney disease. This is known as secondary hypertension.

Similarly, high cholesterol can also run in those whose families also have the condition. This is known as familial hypercholesterolemia, which affects 1 to 2 percent of children.

As mentioned above, exercise is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease, and even better when it’s done in combination with healthy eating. This means urging your child to eat more fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, as well as making sure they’re consuming foods that are low in fat.