Carol A. Gooch, M.S., LPC, LCDC, LMFT

As a mental health professional, I can tell you that some people have difficulty coping with holiday stress and depression, so as soon as the holidays are over, they start to reflect on what they can change for the next year. 2017 can be a great year for you, if you begin thinking about ways to improve your life. A new year is a fresh start and provides the psychological boost needed to set and meet your goals. Many people would benefit by making a few changes to improve their fitness level, diet, weight or general well-being. One or two small changes can make a difference in a person’s health.

Health screenings can save lives. Early detection for diseases, such as colon, breast and cervical cancer can improve prognosis dramatically. Screenings to test for diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease should also all be considered. The type of screening needed is based on your age, gender and risk factors for certain conditions. Talk with your doctor to determine what is recommended and make this the year to get screened.

Fiber rich foods, such as oatmeal, leafy green vegetables and beans help you feel full longer, decreases the risk of colon cancer and helps keep things moving through the digestive system. Increasing calcium in your diet can help prevent osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include yogurt, milk, bok choy, broccoli and baked beans.

Most people know that exercise can improve their health, but they may not know just how beneficial it can be. Exercise can help lower blood pressure and raise levels of good cholesterol in the body. It can also improve circulation and cut the risk of medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Participate in exercises you enjoy, set short-term goals and rewards, and exercise with a buddy or group of friends. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Spending time with friends and family helps people feel a sense of belonging. The need for human connection may be something more important than most people realize. According to the Mayo Clinic, developing and maintaining friendships can help you avoid bad habits, such as excessive alcohol use, increase happiness and decrease stress. Make spending time with people you care about a priority. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Laughter is good medicine.

Most people get stressed periodically; some more than others. Chronic stress can contribute to conditions, such as depression, cardiac problems and high blood pressure. Develop ways to reduce stress, such as doing breathing exercises and practicing yoga. Exercise, acupressure and meditation may also help some people relax and de-stress.

Most people lose a little sleep once in a while, but chronic sleep deprivation can lead to problems such as irritability, trouble concentrating and memory problems. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, sleep deprivation may also contribute to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. According to The University of Maryland most adults need between five and nine hours of sleep a night. To improve how much sleep you get, develop good habits, such as getting to sleep at the same time each night, limiting caffeinated beverages and developing the same bedtime routine.

A new year is a great time to make a commitment to healthy living. Remember to take good care of yourself both physically and mentally. I wish you health wealth and wisdom in 2017.