There's no question that being proactive about your health is the best way to make sure you're in tip-top shape, whether that's fighting off the inevitable February cold or starting your 5k training in the spring. But for a lot of us, it's easy to put off the
essential health checks that can help us be our healthiest selves. Maybe you saw your GP last year, but forgot to make your dentist appointments — and that's perfectly OK. It's a new year, after all. While sometimes it can be hard to keep on top of health when there's so much else going on in life, annual or semi-annual health checks for specific issues are good things to have in our diaries, to remind us to take care of ourselves.
Before you head to the doctor, it's a good idea to know both your own health history and that of your family. What illnesses have your nearest and dearest had, and are they prone to be passed down genetically? When did you last have your vaccines? Knowing the answers to questions like this makes your doctor's life easier and refines what tests should be essential to you right now, and what doesn't need to happen for another two or three years. Beyond this list, there are other tests, like
physical therapy check-ups, that might be appropriate for you to add to your calendar depending on your health needs. These nine, however, should be your basic ones to get on your calendar for the rest of the year.
Got out of the habit of going in for an annual physical since you were a kid? It's probably a good idea to start again. Harvard Health
recommends annual health checks for all adults, and explains that they're far-ranging and cover a lot of checks in one go. "Your doctor — or increasingly, nurse practitioner or physician assistant — will measure your height and weight, take your blood pressure, and listen to your heart and lungs. [They] may review your health history, see if you're up to date with immunizations and screening tests, and offer advice on lowering your risk factors for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer," they say. "You may have a blood test for cholesterol and blood sugar. Then, if you don't need follow-up care, it's goodbye until next year." Easy, done, dusted.
Blood Pressure Screening
Don't have time for an annual health check? It's a good idea to schedule a blood pressure screening anyway. Everyday Health says, "The American Heart Association (AHA) says that if your blood pressure is below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is the ideal reading, you should have it checked
at least once every two years, starting at age 20." If you don't know your blood pressure or haven't had it checked in a while, drop by a doctor's office (or a pharmacy with a blood pressure machine) to note your figures.
Even if you're fully monogamous, it's worth getting a full STI check-up every year, according to doctors. Government organization Better Health recommends that "if you are under 30 years of age and sexually active,
have a urine test for chlamydia each year, as chlamydia can affect your fertility and often has no symptoms. If you have sex with one or more new partners without a condom, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor about checking for other sexually transmissible infections." Even if you have been abstinent for a while, some STIs can lie dormant or be without symptoms.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) recommends that women start having
cholesterol screenings between the ages of 20 and 45. The good news? "Women with normal cholesterol levels do not need to have the test repeated for five years," the NLM says. Once you're over 45, the tests will likely become more frequent, and your doctor will also monitor you more closely if you have any genetic propensity for high cholesterol or diabetes.
My grandfather was a dentist, and in my family you go to the dentist once a year without fail — or every six months if you want to. It's not just us, either. "
Regular dental exams are an important part of preventive health care," says the Mayo Clinic. "During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will clean your teeth and check for cavities and gum disease. The dentist or hygienist will also evaluate your risk of developing other oral health problems, as well as check your face, neck and mouth for abnormalities. A dental exam might also include dental X-rays (radiographs) or other diagnostic procedures." If you haven't been for a while, it's a good idea to schedule one for this year.
If you have a vagina, it's important to get your reproductive system checked out once a year. Your OB/GYN can help you make decisions about birth control, check for uterine abnormalities like fibroids or cysts, as well as take care of that all-important STI test. Also, if your last pap smear was over three years ago or you haven't had one yet, make 2019 the year you get checked. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) " screening every 3 years with a Pap test alone" for people ages 21 to 29, according to a spokesperson from the USPSTF, while people ages 30 to 65 can either have a pap smear every 3 years, an HPV test every 5 years, or both an HPV test and pap smear every 5 years.
You likely had the HPV vaccine before you became sexually active and got a full slate of vaccinations as a kid, but some of the latter will need updating over your adult life. This is particularly important if you're planning to travel in 2019. "Check that your
childhood immunisations [ sic] are up to date and whether you need any boosters, such as tetanus," recommends Better Health. You're also strongly recommended to get the flu vaccine, particularly if you're pregnant or "are worried that you are likely to get the flu and it would impact significantly on you," they say. (Yes, it's not too late to do so!) You can get a flu shot from your GP or at the pharmacy.
HIV testing isn't included in standard STI screening, and you need to have a specific blood test for it. "If you’ve never been tested for HIV, now’s the time to get screened," says
Health. "Everyone between 15 and 65 should be screened for HIV at least once, according to the USPSTF, with repeat tests for those at higher risk of infection." If you've never had a test before, it's a good plan to make 2019 the year to have one done.
A Mental Health Check-In
Even if you've never had mental health issues, experts recommend that it's a good idea to talk to your physician about how you're feeling every year. It's becoming more common, and for good reason:
43.8 million American adults experience mental illness every year, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. "Yearly mental health evaluations will force a normalization of mental illness in a culture which perpetuates the idea that a lack of mental health functioning is a rare, personal problem," therapist Racine R. Henry PhD told NBC. It can be good to make time in your annual physical to go through a checklist of mood and mental health symptoms with your doctor, or schedule a special appointment just to chat.
The new year is all about renewal and new habits. In the midst of all the fun, try to make time for yourself and prioritize your own health, too.
Update: This article was updated from its original version on Jan. 14, 2019 to include comment from the USPSTF.