When was the last time you had a physical? No, high school baseball doesn't count. While general medical exams are still the number one reason people go to the doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors conducted an estimated 74 million check-ups in 2009--just about one for every four Americans.
But is it overkill? Some research suggests annual physical exams don't benefit the average healthy guy, says Timothy Wilt, M.D., M.P.H., a researcher at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, and coauthor of a 2011 VA report that advised against physicals for people without symptoms. Why? Testing can be expensive, and only two of the dozens of tests done for men--blood pressure and weight--are supported by medical evidence, the report finds. Plus, getting a check-up isn't a guarantee you'll get the screenings that are recommended. (Make sure you receive the 5 Tests that Could Save Your Life.)
On the other hand, yearly appointments provide a chance for your doctor to review your health history and address risk factors such as smoking, lack of physical activity, and risky sex, says Virginia A. Moyer, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Physicals also establish a relationship with your doctor--a 2009 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found patients who were more connected to one doctor were more likely to get high-quality care. You'll also have numbers to compare year after year so that you can spot early warning signs of diabetes and other diseases, says Bradley Jones, M.D., an internist at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, Texas.
Here's the thing: Guidelines from official groups aren't for or against checkups. But whether you make a yearly visit or not, doctors largely agree you should take these preventive steps.
Check in before you change your fitness routine. Reports of pro athletes dropping like flies are frightening, but the risk of sudden cardiac death is about one in 200,000, says Cathy Cantor, M.D., M.B.A., an internist and sports medicine specialist at ProMedica Physicians in Toledo. If you're planning to dramatically increase your activity level--for instance, you're a couch potato starting marathon training--book an appointment to help you decide if you want additional cardiac tests like an EKG to detect hidden heart problems before you kick it up. (And be prepared to help yourself if you get hurt while training with The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies.)
Schedule key health screenings.
Have a blood pressure test and weight check every year or two, a cholesterol test every five years starting at 35, and colon cancer screening at age 50, the USPSTF advises. If you have a family history or other risk factors for cancer or heart disease, you may need to start earlier. Depending on your sex life, you may also need testing for HIV and other STDs.
Don't wait to report symptoms.
"Many people ignore or put off concerns until their annual physical--if men have health concerns, they should see their primary care providers," Dr. Moyer says. Shortness of breath, chest pain, or sudden numbness on one side of your body are symptoms that you should never take lightly. They could be signs of a stroke or heart attack. Check out our lists of Surprising Heart Warning Signs and Subtle Injury Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore.
men living well and healthy
A guide to facts and fallacies about fatherhood.
We get the lowdown on male infertility.
A fully grown male deer. The carbon body of a 2007 Shelby Mustang Funny Car. Tom Cruise. And all the sugar and other sweeteners you, the average American, will eat this year. What do they all have in common? They all weigh approximately 140 pounds.
Here’s how dads can best get to grips with breastfeeding.
Fathers can develop a strong connection from before the baby is born and build a bond that will benefit you all.
Welcome to the first step on the journey that is fatherhood.
How men’s wardrobe and personal grooming can be hurting them
Just how bad are our bad habits?