What to put on your annual health check up list
You know there’s a long list of health checks that need to be done at some point.
These include blood pressure tests, skin checks, eye tests, bone density tests, breast checks, cervical screening tests, sexual health screenings, cholesterol and glucose level checks, and dental check ups.
But, remembering exactly when you need these health checks can be a challenge.
We asked GP, Dr Jill Gamberg, for some expert advice on which checks can be added to your annual health check up list. And those that might need to be done more frequently – or sometimes less often.
Why regular health checks are a good idea
There can be differing opinions about how necessary annual health check ups are for people who are generally healthy. What is important is having regular health checks.
The earlier that health conditions are identified, the more likely the treatment will be effective – especially for some health conditions.
What are some health checks you should have?
A GP clinic is the best place to go for advice on regular health checks and if you want to have an annual health check up. What’s included in an annual health check up depends on your specific health needs.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the health checks you need and the frequency they’re required. Your age, health, family history and lifestyle choices influence the number and type of health checks necessary.
In saying that, though, everyone should be having a skin check and a dental check at least once a year.
Important note: if you’d like personalised health advice or want to know how often you should see a GP for any health tests or screening, please speak with your GP first. The information in this article is a guide only.
Health checks in your 20s and 30s
In addition to regular skin checks and dental check ups, you might consider these health checks in your 20s and 30s:
- Blood pressure: Get checked at least every two years if you’re under 40, have normal blood pressure and no family history of high blood pressure.
- Cholesterol and glucose levels: Get your first cholesterol and glucose test done around your twentieth birthday, and then your GP can recommend how often to get retested.
- Cervical Screening Test: Routine cervical screening starts at age 25. There is some good news if you’re a person with a cervix. The Cervical Screening Test (CVT) replaced the Pap test in 2017, which means instead of having a Pap test every two years, you now only need a CVT every five years.
- Breast self-check: In your twenties, you should start checking your breasts every month to notice if there are any changes.
- Sexual health screenings: Dr Jill says if you’re sexually active then it’s worth getting a sexual check every year.
- Testes examinations: As the Movember crew says, ‘know thy nuts’ and do regular self-exams of your testes to feel what is normal and what is not. See your doctor if you have any concerns.
Health checks in your 40s
As you age, it’s important to keep on top of your health, so it’s a good idea to get a few more checks once you hit 40:
- Eye tests: Around age 40, people often find that they might need glasses or contacts. Generally, it is recommended you have eye tests every two years, but check with your optometrist on how often you should have them.
- Heart health checks: People aged over 45 (or 30 and over for First Nations People) should have a heart health check regularly.
- Chronic disease assessments: As we get older, we are more at risk of developing some chronic diseases. Speak with your doctor about how often you should be assessed.
- Reproductive health check: At this stage in your life, you might notice some changes in your menstrual cycle as your body starts to enter peri-menopause, which can impact fertility. Age-related fertility can also impact men.
Health checks in your 50s
It’s time to up the ante again! In addition to the health checks above, you should also consider the following once you hit 50:
- Bowel screening test: From age 50, complete the simple home test every two years.
- Breast screening: You should have a mammogram every two years.
- Bone density: You should get a bone density test done if you are over 50 and have risk factors for developing weak and brittle bones. Younger people with risk factors might need to be checked too.
- Prostrate: Doctors have varying opinions on whether healthy people who have a prostate and who are also asymptomatic of disease should be tested. Speak to your doctor about whether a test is right for you.
Health checks in your 60s and beyond
Now you’re probably thinking that at this rate, you’ll be at the Doctor’s office every second week once you hit 60. But don’t worry, there’s only one extra test that’s recommended from now:
- Visual and hearing impairment tests: Everyone aged over 65 should have eye and hearing tests done every year.
A final word on health checks
Regular skin checks and dental check ups are essential for all adults. If you’ve any concerns, symptoms or keep getting sick, Dr Jill says to see your doctor as soon as possible instead of waiting for health checks and screening tests.
How to make and keep your health appointments
You might be scared of going to the doctor. After all, nobody wants to hear bad news. But your health is too important to miss your next health appointment.
Sometimes people are also scared of doctors’ appointments because they don’t want to:
- get bill shock
- be inconvenienced or spend too much time in waiting rooms
- be embarrassed during a consultation
- have difficulty communicating or be misunderstood
Here are some tips to help you make and keep your health appointments
- Bring a friend: If you’re scared of getting bad news in the doctor’s office, bring a friend to help calm your nerves and to remind you of the questions you forget to ask.
- Save time online: Many healthcare providers have online booking systems so that you can book a time that works best for you. While face-to-face consultations are the gold standard in healthcare, you might consider using digital health services that do video calls and online consultations to help you save time and embarrassment.
- Ask a pharmacist: Depending on which state or territory you live in, some pharmacies offer basic health checks, immunisation services and medication home delivery which could also save you time. Pharmacists also know when to refer you to a GP for a health check, so they can be useful if you’re not sure.
- Confirm costs: If you’re worried about bill shock, check how much consultations and treatments will cost before you confirm your booking.
- Home testing kits: Some STIs can be tested using home sample kits. Some states and territories offer free home sample kits.
- Get help with language barriers: Use the CALD Assist TM phone app to communicate with health professionals. It has more than 200 commonly used phrases professionally interpreted into ten languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Croatian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Mandarin, Serbian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
- Use apps to remember your appointments: As well as choosing a healthcare provider that sends text message reminders to their clients about bookings, there are apps available to set reminders for upcoming appointments.
Check your health check ups
Booking regular health checks will help you to optimise your health journey. It’s best to speak to your GP about the exact health checks and screening tests you should have as they change during each age and stage of life.
It’s so important to make and keep your health appointments. Try some of the tips above, like booking online to save time and using phone apps to remind you of your appointments. While many of us say we don’t have time for appointments, we need to make time because our health is one of the most precious things we have.
Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021