LOS ANGELES (KABC) --A new study found that a teen's fitness level may be more important than weight when it comes to healthy blood pressure.
High blood pressure runs in 12-year-old Salma Gonzalez's family. New findings reveal she's not too young to take steps to protect herself.
"Eat healthy, not eat too much junk food," Salma said.
Weight and poor nutrition are risk factors, but like many kids her age, Salma is missing something key - fitness.
"Children should be exercising. The sad thing is they're cutting out exercise time in schools," said pediatrician Dr. Martha Rivera.
Scientists followed 1.5 million Swedish men from teen years to middle age. They found overweight adolescents or those with low fitness levels faced triple the risk of having high blood pressure later in life.
Rivera says exercise helps arteries and veins retain their elasticity.
"As we age, all of us have a little bit of increased blood pressure. As we age, our vessels get stiff," Rivera said.
In the study, researchers found thin teens or those who fell within the ideal weight range were more at risk for future hypertensoin problems if their fitness levels were low. So study authors say fitness may be even more important than weight.
"You need to move that body. Our body is made for movement, not just to be sitting, playing video games and doing these things, and along with nutrition and sleep, we have to have movement," Rivera said.
U.S. guidelines say kids 6 to 17 should get at least one hour of aerobic exercise each day. Rivera says 90 minutes or more would be better. Also, don't just sit around at home.
"I say vacuum a house. Help your mother garden. Go outside, plant a yard and then eat what you plant. It's all good for you," she said.
Young people with healthy habits often carry them into adulthood. So, experts say it's important for families to exercise together.