For many, the start of a new year is a time to cut down on unhealthy habits and recommit to leading a healthier life. If you plan to start the new year on a healthy path, the best place to begin is scheduling a physical with your primary care physician to obtain several important health exams, screenings, and vaccinations.
Physical exams are an essential part of your yearly wellness check-up routine. “Physical exams are an opportunity to evaluate your overall health, refill prescriptions and ask questions to your doctor,” says Avni Jain, MD, primary care physician with Adventist Medical Group. Physical exam visits usually involve checking the following:
- Medical History
- Blood Pressure
- Body Temperature
- Heart and Lung Function
Make sure you are up-to-date on the following vaccinations:
- Tdap and Td Booster: The Tdap and Td booster shot protects you from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. This vaccine should be administered every 10 years.
- HPV Vaccine Series: The HPV Vaccine is a series of three shots to protect you from cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). This vaccine is most effective and highly recommended for teenagers and young adults under 26 years old.
- Varicella: If you were born after 1980 and have never had chickenpox, your physician may recommend you receive two doses of the varicella vaccine to avoid catching the disease in adulthood.
- MMR vaccine: If you were born before 1957, your physician may recommend that you receive a one-time dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to avoid catching these diseases in adulthood.
- Flu Shot: Getting the flu vaccine every year reduces your chance of catching the flu, suffering from flu-related complications and spreading the disease to your family and coworkers. This vaccine should be administered every year.
- Pneumonia Vaccine: is recommended for ages 65 and older or earlier if needed.
- Shingles Vaccine: is recommended after the age of 50.
Well-woman exams help you assess the health of your reproductive organs. For most women, this exam is recommended once a year. During these exams, your physician will ask about your menstrual cycles, evaluate your contraception methods and address other issues specific to the female body. “Based on your age, your physician may also request a pelvic exam and pap smear to check for cervical cancer,” says Dr. Jain.
Mammograms are the most important screening tool for breast cancer and helps detect breast cancer in its early stages. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast showing changes in tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It can be hard for women to know the best time to begin yearly mammograms. Dr. Jain recommends talking with your doctor about the best time to begin. In some cases, earlier screening is recommended if you are at high risk of developing breast cancer.
Colorectal screenings are a category of tests that help your physician locate colon abnormalities and colorectal cancer in its early stages. Most guidelines recommend that men and women with average risk start getting screened at 45 at increments based on the specific test and risk factors. Examples of common colorectal screenings include colonoscopies and stool DNA tests. There is no single recommended test for each person, so talk to your physician about which screening test are right for you.
Aortic Aneurysm Screening
This screening is often recommended for men between 65 to 75 years old who have ever smoked. The test helps assess your risk for abdominal aortic aneurysms, a potentially fatal condition that mainly affects older men with a history of smoking. If you are at high risk, your physician will request you receive a one-time ultrasound to scan your abdomen for abnormalities.
Lung Cancer Screening
This screening is beneficial to adults who have a history of smoking. It involves using a low-dose CT scan to spot signs of lung cancer. Screenings should be performed once a year for adults aged 55 to 80 years old who are current smokers, have a history of smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
Lipid screenings test your cholesterol levels. This test, often called a lipid profile, involves a simple blood draw and may require fasting in advance. “It’s recommended that adult men and women take this test on the yearly basis to prevent coronary heart diseases and other conditions affecting your heart health,” says Dr. Jain.