Let's take a look at seven things that every smart patient should do in 2017 that may help you manage and improve your health in the new year.

1. Schedule an annual checkup.

If you are in an HMO, or have health insurance, your annual checkup is likely to be scheduled as a longer visit, with more opportunity and latitude for the doctor to order tests, and more time to discuss issues with your physician. (Versus the shorter visits that tend to be scheduled when you come in because you're not feeling well.) Don't pass up the opportunity to have a paid-for in-depth visit with your doctor. This is the time to ask for those tests — like leptin, or Reverse T3, or DHEA, or ferritin, for example — that aren't typically included in regular bloodwork, and to discuss issues like changing treatments or trying new approaches.

2. Commit to taking your supplements and prescription medications regularly.

One of the most perplexing issues is that even when prescribed medications, or on a regimen of vitamins/supplements, many people simply don't take them! They forget, or don't get into a habit, and are erratic about it. Figure out a system — it may be leaving your medications and supplements next to your toothbrush or coffeepot, or getting a smartphone app — to help you remember, and start making it a habit that you don't break.

3. Start getting — and keeping — copies of all your test results.

It's not enough to get a call from the doctor's office saying "your levels are fine." Or a card in the mail saying that "your PAP smear was negative." This year, make a resolution to get copies of your actual test results, and once you get them, review them. THEN, make sure you understand them! And file them so they are easily accessible to you throughout the year.

4. Drink more water, get more exercise, and get more sleep.

No list of recommendations would be complete without these obvious, but frequently ignored, maxims. Water helps hydrate your body and improve metabolism, aids in weight loss, and can aid in combating fatigue. Yet many of us don't drink enough. Start adding in more water slowly, and work your way up to the recommended 64 ounces a day. (That can include herbal teas, and sparkling water as well.) Exercise, is of course, crucial to flexibility, energy, better sleep, improved sex drive, weight loss, heart health, and overall quality of life. You don't have to become a gym rat — even committing to several walks per week will be a good start. But schedule it in in advance - it's a good way to make sure you leave time to move. And finally, so many people complain about fatigue, but many people fail to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Sleep is crucial to hormonal function, immune health, weight loss, clear thinking/cognition, mood, and many other health factors. Start adding a few minutes a night to your nightly sleep, and you'll soon work your way up to the point where you start enjoying the benefits of being well-rested.

5. Make changes to your diet.

Even if you're not overweight, there are probably some things you can and should be doing to improve your nutrition. Some obvious suggestions:

  • eliminate or reduce sugar intake
  • eliminate or minimize processed foods
  • eliminate high fructose corn syrup
  • cut back on excessive caffeine intake
  • eliminate artificial sweeteners
  • eliminate sugary and diet sodas
  • eliminate or reduce fast food
  • buy organic, hormone-free, and pesticide-free whenevere possible

If you need to lose weight, consider following a gluten-free "Paleo" diet, a naturally healthful approach that focuses on healthy proteins, vegetables, good fats, and avoids weight-gain triggers like wheat, dairy, and sugar.

6. Practice active stress reduction.

Stress has so many negative effects on the body. It can activate the immune system in unhealthy ways, affect our moods, make us more susceptible to illness, and contribute to weight gain, among other issues. Commit to practicing some form of active stress reduction every day, even for a few minutes. That means meditation, guided imagery, yoga, deep breathing, tai chi, qi gong, prayer, gardening, needlework, or another activity that lowers respiration, lowers heart rate, and lowers stress hormones.

7. Cultivate gratitude.

Even if you are struggling with health issues, it's crucial to cultivate a sense of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, or incorporate gratitude practices into your daily life. Gratitude makes you happier and lowers stress, and that can do wonders for your health and quality of life.

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