It’s rather incredible how a person’s upbringing can predict their life’s course, even as it makes complete sense. From birth, children are exposed to various things, but none as often as the behaviors of their own parents. Within their first three years alone, kids develop a sense of sociability that can predict their next 30 years of social and academic achievement — all depending on how sensitive their caregivers are to their needs. But children’s mentalities are still malleable long after 3 years old, making every interaction with them crucial to their future selves. A new study supports this, finding that kids with more positive upbringings are also more likely to have healthy hearts.

“The choices parents make have a long-lasting effect on their children’s future health, and improvement in any one thing can have measurable benefits,” said senior author Dr. Laura Pulkki-Råback, a research fellow at the University of Helsinki in Finland, in a press release. “For instance, if an unemployed parent gets steady employment, the effect may be huge. If he or she also quits smoking, the benefit is even greater. All efforts to improve family well-being are beneficial.”

It’s not only about emotional stability but also a parent’s circumstances that help a child grow into a mentally and physically healthy adult. Specifically, children who could control aggressiveness and impulsiveness, and who grew up with parents that were financially stable with healthy habits, were 14 percent more likely to have normal weights, 12 percent more likely to be nonsmokers, and 11 percent more likely to have healthy glucose levels as adults.

For the study, the researchers looked at socioeconomic status, emotional stability, parental health behaviors, stressful events, self-regulation of behavioral problems, and social adjustment in a group of 3,577 kids aged 3 to 18. Nearly 1,100 of the participants returned for a follow-up for a cardiovascular exam 27 years later, when they were between the ages 30 and 45. This was when the researchers found that those who had a healthier, stable childhood were more likely to have ideal cardiovascular health.

“Scientific evidence supports the fact that investing in the wellbeing of children and families will be cost effective in the long run because it decreases health care costs at the other end of life (old age),” Pulkki-Råback said. “The knowledge is out there, and now it is a question of values and priorities.”

The knowledge is indeed out there, and it mostly shows that parental involvement, health, and stability in childhood is crucial. One study from last year, for example, found that simple family rituals like eating dinner or singing songs together stimulated emotional and social health — the more involved families were, the more a child reaped the benefits. Another one from last month found that 30.6 percent of kids living in large cities lived in poverty. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the publisher of the study, these kids are at risk of poorer health outcomes due to a lack of education and being unable to afford health care.

Despite the stress associated with financial hardship — among other problems like depression — it should always be a parent’s first priority to care for their kids, and to nurture emotional stability. Sometimes you can’t have everything you need, but you can make do with what you have, and that can still make all the difference.

Source: Elovainio M, Hakulinen C, Lipsanen J, et al. Circulation. 2015.