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  • Writer's pictureMimi Greenwood Knight

Yearly Checkup

Haven't Had a Physical in a While? Why You Should Go Now.

By Meredith Knight

We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That prevention should begin with an annual physical, and here’s why.

Head Off Future Problems

Annual physicals allow your primary care provider (PCP) to review changes in your health that may have occurred since your last checkup. Then, they can weigh your risk factors and offer advice about lifestyle choices to help you get and stay healthy.

Form a Healthcare Partnership

During your physical, be honest, ask questions, and listen to your PCP’s advice. Should you experience health issues down the line, you’ll already have a working relationship and understand each other’s communication styles and priorities.

Create a Baseline

When you’re faithful with your annual physicals, your provider understands where you came from and can better assess how your health may have changed.

Spend Less

An annual physical can detect health problems before they become serious, so you’re not spending extra money to get the train back on the track after it’s derailed.

Review and Renew Prescriptions

Talk to your doctor about any medication you’re taking — including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements — to assess whether they’re still the best option available, to look for prescription side effects that may have occurred, and check for possible medication interactions.

What to Expect

Depending on your age, family history, lifestyle, and risk factors, your provider should do some or all of the following during your physical.

Blood Pressure Screening: This simple test measures the force of your blood against your arteries. Anything lower than 120/80 is considered normal.

Cholesterol Screening: Your PCP measures the amount of cholesterol in your blood, hoping for a total cholesterol reading of lower than 200 mg/dL, an LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) reading of less than 130 mg/dL, and an HDL (or “good” cholesterol) reading of more than 60 mg/dL.

Blood Glucose Screening: This test measures the amount of sugar in your blood. An A1C reading of less than 5.7% is considered normal.

Osteoporosis Screening: An imaging test known as a DEXA scan can check for osteoporosis or osteopenia. It is typically recommended for women starting at age 65 unless they have a family history or other risk factors warranting earlier testing. Men should begin around 70.

Body mass index (BMI): Your provider uses your height and weight to determine whether you’re at a healthy weight for someone your size, sex, and age. A BMI of 18.6 to 24.9 is considered normal. Your age and other factors may indicate the need for further testing, but the above diagnostics can help your PCP look for conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, before you begin to experience symptoms. Depending on what they see, your PCP may recommend more frequent follow-up testing and talk to you about lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet, or stress reduction to help you improve or maintain your health.

Vaccines Aren’t Just for Kids

During your physical, your PCP should review your vaccination history with you and may recommend immunizations such as:

COVID-19 It’s recommended that everyone age five and older get the vaccine and get boosted when eligible.

Tdap This combination vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) requires a booster during adulthood and with each pregnancy.

Influenza Flu vaccines are recommended before the start of the flu season each year for anyone over six months old.

HPV This relatively new vaccine protects against cancers caused by human papillomavirus. It’s recommended for children around age 11 or 12 with a “catch-up vaccination” before 26.

Pneumonia If you have asthma, are a smoker, or are over 65, this vaccine can help prevent lung infections.

Shingles Recommended for anyone 50 or older, especially if you’ve had chickenpox.

Hepatitis B Recommended for anyone with diabetes or other immune condition, healthcare workers, and anyone living in a group environment.

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