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Try starting the new year with a healthy question: What do I need to change?

Here's a novel idea for the new year. Why not make your health a priority in 2016? Actually get all those health screenings you know you need but never get around to scheduling. Really change how and what you eat and drink. Take steps to get better sleep. Break up with some long-standing bad habits.

Make this the year you improve your overall mental and physical health. Call it the "New Year, New You" plan.

Good health doesn't happen by accident. It starts by stepping back and evaluating your overall health status.

Schedule a checkup with your primary caregiver.

Share any of your health concerns and discuss ways to resolve them.

Get the necessary prescriptions and referrals for screenings, scans and lab work so you know where you stand physically.

Next, make a list of all the things you want or need to change or act on. We've included some suggestions on these pages. Put them in order from the easiest to the most difficult or complicated. Start with something simple.

"Think very small and doable," said Dr. Nick Dewan, medical director of behavioral health for the BayCare Health System. "It should be something you can easily accomplish in the next half-hour or by the end of today. That way you know you can do it. You know you can successfully make a change."

Then use the technology that most of us have at our fingertips, such as a mobile phone, to help you.

"Set a daily reminder in the calendar on your phone," Dewan said, even if it's to take a 10-minute walk, eat a piece of fruit or make a medical appointment.

It also helps if you recruit a buddy who wants to make the same change as you. But if you're in it alone, having the support of a friend or family member is critical, Dewan said.

Planning helps as well. You don't want to embark on a completely new way of eating without first clearing out the junk food and shopping for more healthful groceries.

Make sure the steps are simple enough at first that you don't get discouraged, frustrated and give up. Set realistic expectations. If you've never been a runner, don't expect to suddenly run 10 miles a day. Start with a few minutes of walking and a few minutes of jogging until you're able to run around the block.

And finally, evaluate your progress. If you bought a gym membership on Dec. 30 and by the end of February you've only been once or twice, going to the gym may not fit your schedule or your personality. That's okay. Cancel the membership and find something else that does. That's not failure. It's smart.

A new year provides everyone with a perceived opportunity to start fresh, make necessary changes and live differently. Take advantage of this time of hope and optimism to finally start taking care of yourself.

What medical tests have you been putting off for months or years — a colonoscopy or cholesterol check maybe?

What's quietly worrying you about your health — a funny skin growth or lump, a nagging cough?

What lifestyle changes would you like to make?

Any bad habits you need to break?

Do you smoke, drink too much, bite your nails?

Add them to the list we've compiled. Consider sharing any we've missed on our health news Facebook page, where we have a link to this report:

Screening tests

(You may need more frequent or earlier screening if high risk for certain conditions. Talk to your doctor.)

• Colonoscopy: every 10 years starting at 50.

• Mammogram: every year or two, starting at 40 or 50.

• Skin cancer check: self-check monthly; by physician annually.

• Eye exam: once in your 20s; twice in your 30s; at age 40, then every year or two.

• Dental check: once or twice a year.

• Hearing check: at least once as an adult.

• Allergy check: for chronic or seasonal runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing.

• Memory evaluation: forgetting the familiar?

• Sleep study: snoring? Stop breathing during sleep? Wake up gasping?

General health

• Get blood work (full panel).

• Get a blood pressure check.

• Stop smoking/tobacco use ASAP.

• Alcohol: Is it time to quit, cut down?

• Lose weight: Take it one pound at a time.

• Learn family medical history: Ask at family get-togethers.

• Fix foot problems, especially if they limit physical activity.

• Become more active. Join a team (softball, dodgeball, basketball, etc); take a class (yoga, tennis, Zumba. The first one is usually free, and there are lots of newbies around first of year); walk (try it at the mall); train for a fundraiser race-run-walk.

• Get a new mattress and pillows. They really do affect your sleep.

• Clean out the medicine cabinet. Toss expired meds and items like sunscreen, first-aid creams and eye/vision-related products.

Mental health

• Purge negative people from your life.

• Look into (marriage/couples/family) counseling.

• Unhappy at work? Update your resume and start job hunting.

• Lost interest in things that used to give you pleasure? Discuss depression with your health care provider.

• Put limits on screen time: TV, computer, phone.

• Ban electronics from the bedroom, family time and date nights.

• Ditch clutter: knickknacks, old books, plastic food containers, stuff belonging to kids, friends and siblings. (Give fair warning.)

• Make your home an oasis, your bedroom a retreat.

• Get rid of clothes, shoes and accessories that don't fit, aren't worn or are damaged.

• Tackle the garage, attic, storage space: empty it; put back only what you need, use or love.

• Start saying "No": "Sorry, I can't help" or "That's not a good fit for me right now."

• Look into cosmetic procedures or treatments you've always wanted to try. Assess the risks, downtime and cost; start saving and/or make arrangements to have them done. Or decide to be happy the way you are.

Contact Irene Maher at

Try starting the new year with a healthy question: What do I need to change? 12/24/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2015 10:58am]
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