When you feel healthy, you're probably not thinking too much about health promotion and disease prevention, especially with work, family and other obligations crowding your calendar. It's hard to find time for a checkup. Do you really need to visit your doctor regularly?
The short answer is yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "if everyone in the US received recommended clinical preventive care, we could save over 100,000 lives each year." Here's what you need to know about how to stay on top of your health at every stage of your life.
Why Are Regular Checkups Important?
The truth is routine exams and screenings are critical at every age. Since exams focus on health promotion and disease prevention, they are a proactive way for you and your doctor to stay on top of your overall health. Most importantly, exams can help your doctor identify health problems before they start and nip them in the bud.
Regular doctor visits help establish an ongoing relationship with your physician. They will have a better understanding of your medical history and help you evaluate different risk factors, such as your family history, age, gender and occupation. Together, you can think critically about ways to stay healthy and sidestep chronic conditions based on your individual profile.
Which Checkups Do You Need?
You should undergo certain tests and screenings on a regular basis; think of them as routine maintenance and an opportunity to keep tabs on your health risk factors. Some examples include:
- Blood pressure: High blood pressure is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but it is preventable and easily managed with diet, lifestyle changes and medication. The American Heart Association recommends regular blood pressure checks every two years. Tests are quick and easy, and you can do them at your doctor's office or pharmacy.
- Cholesterol: Like blood pressure, cholesterol is another key risk factor for cardiovascular disease that you can manage through diet and lifestyle change or medication. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol tested every four to six years. Those with a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors may need to be screened more frequently.
- Diabetes: According to the CDC, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes. That's why the American Diabetes Association recommends that everyone 45 years and older get screened for diabetes every three years.
- Flu shot: While this technically isn't a test or checkup, a yearly flu shot is an easy way to safeguard your health, especially if you work in a healthcare setting, school or other environment where you may be exposed to a lot of germs. After all, according to the CDC, millions get the flu each year and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized.
- Cancer Screenings: It's recommended that those who are age 21 and older get a pap smear — a test to screen for cervical cancer — every three to five years. Women should also get regular breast cancer screenings starting at age 50. Men need to think about prostate cancer screenings, starting at age 55.
- Spine Health: Sitting at a desk all day and using a computer can increase your health risk factors, resulting in nagging aches from your lower back to your wrists to your neck. Talk to your doctor if you experience pain that won't go away. They'll likely do a physical exam and may request diagnostic tests like an MRI or an X-ray.
Some tests are more appropriate for specific ages based on your gender; be sure to speak with your doctor.
Your Health Takes Priority
While making the time in your schedule for a doctor's appointment can be a pain, the pros of regular checkups are worth the effort. Plus, you and your doctor will gather important health promotion and disease prevention information to help you stay healthy in the long-term.