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Healthy Habits That Begin at Home

If you're like most moms, you want your child to develop helpful habits like putting away her toys and clothes.

It's just as important that she cultivate habits that'll help her stay healthy—physically and emotionally. "Healthy practices really do begin at home, where there are teachable moments in everyday life," says Donald Shifrin, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in Seattle.

An easy way to start: teach by example. Young kids love to copy Mom and Dad. But role modeling can take you only so far. If no amount of broccoli chomping on your part seems to inspire your child to eat her veggies, for instance, you'll want to get a little creative. Here, some important health practices to encourage, and easy ways to get your child started:

1. Get moving
The whys are convincing: Being active can slash your child's chances of becoming overweight, lower her risks for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes down the road, and help her mood stay on an even keel. Yet fewer than one in four kids gets even 30 minutes of physical activity a day. The key to making it a habit? Stop stressing "exercise." Have fun! Play with hula hoops. Go hiking. Race around the park to catch falling leaves.

Every morning, my husband makes a game out of getting on the floor with our sons for a round of sit-ups and push-ups. Nate, 8, decides how many Dad should do, and the deal is that Nate has to do half as many. Nicky, 3, loves to join in the contest.

If nothing motivates your child to move, try a system that limits couch time. "My son gets three plastic tokens—each representing thirty minutes in front of the TV or computer—to use during the day," says Dena Dyer of Granbury, Texas. "He can earn an extra token for playing outside."

Stacey Colino, a mom of two in Chevy Chase, Maryland, writes about health and psychology for many national magazines.