With the new year come many resolutions to make the upcoming year better than the last. If you are like many people, your resolution may have something to do with improving your health. Here are five ways to kick 2014 off to a healthy start.

Drink more water -†Many of us may not realize that we go through our entire day dehydrated. Water has many benefits to the body. Water helps maintain the balance of body fluids, controls calories, helps energize muscles, keeps skin looking good, and helps your kidneys stay healthy. Remember, itís also calorie-free, affordable, and readily available.

Get more sleep -†A number of studies have confirmed that we need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel adequately rested. Among the many benefits of getting enough sleep are feeling better, decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease, and boosting and strengthening memory. A lack of sleep has been linked to a greater risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Make an effort to go to bed earlier a few nights each week.

Learn to relax - If you find yourself getting stressed frequently, you may be putting your heart health at risk. Stress can cause your blood pressure to rise, and if chronic, it can increase your risk of insomnia, depression, obesity, and heart disease. It may also lead you to seek stress relief from unhealthy habits. When your stress level starts to rise, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing to help you relax, and make sure to take some time for yourself each day doing something you enjoy.

Know your number - Have your cholesterol and fasting blood sugar numbers checked at least once a year. If your low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol number is high, your odds of developing cardiovascular disease greatly increase. Testing your fasting blood sugar measures your risk for diabetes; a chronic disease that can lead to blindness, cardiac disease, kidney failure, nerve problems and an impaired immune system. Itís also good to know your blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and stroke. Some other numbers you should keep track of are your waist size and weight. If youíre sporting a large waistline, your risk of dying prematurely is nearly double. Being obese can cause a slew of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gout, hypertension, high blood pressure and cancer.

Reduce sodium consumption - Studies show that many Americans consume close to twice the recommended limit of sodium, which is 1500 mg daily. Besides contributing to water retention, sodium can raise blood pressure. Processed foods contain the most, so make sure to read labels. Lower sodium diets are linked to decreased risk of heart disease, lower hypertension, and weight management.

Just as important as picking your new yearís resolution is being able to keep up with it. Three tips to turn your resolution into a habit are to start with small changes, celebrate your successes, and have a plan for when you falter. Be a better you in 2014, one step at a time.

Happy New Year!

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.