Special to The Hays Daily News

Reduce your sugar and sodium intake. Drink more water. Get moving. Log eight hours of sleep.

There are so many health messages clamoring for our attention on a daily basis, even the most health conscious person can feel overwhelmed. The older we get, many of us adopt the attitude there is not much we can do to control or improve our health.

One simple way to take care of yourself and stay healthy is to team up with your doctor to get the screenings and vaccines needed to detect and prevent illness. And as a result of the new health care overhaul, everyone on Medicare can take advantage of free preventive health benefits. To find out specifically how ACA personally will impact your health care options, visit www.aarp.org/healthlawguide.

If you are insured by Medicare, set aside some time to learn about all Medicare offers you at www.aarp.org/Medicare.

But before adding another thing to your to-do list, spend a few minutes and continue reading about three easy-to-follow tips for staying healthy.

1. New Medicare beneficiaries should schedule a "welcome to Medicare" appointment with your doctor during your first year of coverage.

The one-time "welcome to Medicare" preventive visit is free for patients whose doctors accept Medicare, but it must be conducted within the first year after enrolling in Part B. At this visit, your doctor should:

* Complete a comprehensive review of your medical and family health history.

* Check your height, weight and blood pressure.

* Calculate your body mass index.

* Do a simple vision test.

* Give you advice to help you prevent disease, improve your health and stay well.

* Make appropriate referrals when necessary.

2. Schedule a "Medicare yearly wellness" visit and use your appointment time to talk to your doctor.

If you're not new to Medicare, but have received coverage for more than a year, you can schedule time to talk to your doctor during a "Medicare yearly wellness" visit. At this visit, your doctor should:

* Complete a comprehensive review of your medical and family health history.

* Check your height, weight and blood pressure.

* Review your current medicines.

* Schedule recommended shots and screenings.

* Advise you on personal medical issues and treatment options.

Use your visit as a time to talk to your doctor about your health, review the medications you take and make a proactive plan to keep you healthy. Your plan should include information and important dates about the vaccines and screenings that are right for you. Take advantage of every chance to talk with your doctor. Call your doctor's office and be sure to clearly state you are scheduling your "Medicare yearly wellness" visit. Be prepared with your questions and bring paper and a pen with you to your appointment.

3. Find out what vaccines and screenings you need, when you need them and how frequently.

Your doctor can suggest recommended vaccines to prevent flu and pneumonia and schedule screenings or tests such as:

* Cardiovascular screening

* Blood pressure

* Blood cholesterol

* Body mass index

* Diabetes screening

* Colorectal cancer screening