Setting lofty goals for the new year? Don’t get us wrong—working towards self-improvement is an admirable thing. But there’s also a reason why most New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail (research shows that 80% of them are abandoned by February, if you want to get specific). All too frequently, we set sky-high expectations instead of embracing small but meaningful shifts. So rather than make another resolution list that’s easy to abandon, how about something different for 2022—like a health checklist?
After all, taking care of your most basic health needs and setting attainable goals can build a strong foundation for all other parts of life. And the start of the new year is a perfect time to make annual check-up appointments for the year ahead, reflect on healthy habits, and get your general wellness routine in order—so you don’t have to worry about it all later.
Before we get into it should be noted that these are general guidelines. Because everyone is different, with unique medical and family history, consider reviewing this checklist with your primary care provider, so they can make individual recommendations for you.
Before you dive into your healthcare checklist, it’s not a bad idea to get yourself up to speed with your health insurance coverage—what your plan entails, your provider network, and any additional benefits you might want to take advantage of. And if you’re enrolled in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), consider making a loose plan for where you’d like to allocate that spending—even if your plan is just to save it for copays, deductibles, and unexpected health expenses.
Your annual physical exam with your primary care doctor is the foundation for preventative care. Although there is no specific recommendation that everyone should get a physical every year, they are beneficial whether you have a concern or not. Physicals in good health create a baseline that doctors can use to track your health. This data can make it easier to spot irregularities later in life.
Here are some parts of the exam you can expect during an annual physical.
This might include vision or dental check-ups, reproductive exams with your ob-gyn or urologist, or skin screenings with a dermatologist.. Annual check-ups are often recommended across these specialty areas, though you might want to schedule them more frequently depending on your age and health history.
How often should I get an eye check-up?
Spoiler: Eye exams aren’t just for those of us with vision issues. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a full eye exam for people over the age of 40. This type of exam covers a host of tests and checks both eye health and the vision of both eyes. After an initial exam, it’s recommended that people continue to have these check-ups every five years. After the age of 60, the frequency should increase to one to two years.
Typically an eye checkup will include a retinal exam. Here your eye doctor will take photos of your eye and possibly use special eye drops to dilate your pupils. This is an important test that allows your doctor to see the back area of your eye, including the blood flow to the eye, and check for any thinning or tears. This specific exam will make the overall length of your eye exam take longer as you’ll need to wait approximately 20 to 30 minutes before your eyes will be fully dilated. Bring dark sunglasses for after the exam. It’s also a good idea to have someone drive you home as your vision can be blurry.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you’ll want to schedule an eye exam more frequently as your vision can change. Most eyeglass prescriptions only last between one to two years, so you’ll need an eye exam if you want to purchase new glasses.
How often should I visit the dermatologist?
A skin exam is something that many people overlook. We sometimes don’t think we need an exam if we don’t see anything unusual. But, as the protective layers of the Earth’s atmosphere become further depleted, the risk factors for skin cancer rise. In the last ten years alone, invasive melanoma cases have increased by 44 percent.
The good news is a skin exam is quick and easy. You should schedule a skin exam every year, and more often if you have a history of skin cancer or experience unusual moles or other skin growths. Catching skin cancer in its earliest stages makes it much easier to treat effectively with minimal cost. Waiting too long can allow skin cancer to spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
Before your skin exam, remove makeup and nail polish and leave your hair loose so your scalp can be easily examined. You’ll be asked to put on a medical gown and can keep your underwear on unless you have a suspicious mole in this area that you would like examined. An exam usually takes around 10 minutes. If your doctor finds something suspicious, they will most likely perform a small biopsy of the mole in question. You will then be told at a later date whether the mole is cancerous and your doctor will discuss treatment options. Remember, catching skin cancer in its earliest stages can help prevent much more serious cases.
How many times a year should I get a dental cleaning and exam?
Many of us have cancelled a dental cleaning, either due to anxiety, scheduling challenges or a mixture of both. It’s an easy appointment to want to skip. But increasing links are being made between diminished dental health and serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke and dementia.
Not only can regular dental visits help keep you healthy, but they can also help your dentist catch issues like cavities when they are minor and inexpensive to fix. Waiting long periods of time between visits can allow these minor problems to grow into significant, costly procedures like root canals and extractions. At a minimum, visit your dentist for a cleaning and exam once a year. Since everyone’s mouth is different, your dentist will set up a schedule that is right for your specific needs.
Reproductive System Exams
How often should I get an exam with a gynecologist or urologist?
It’s recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 29 have a Pap test every three years. Guidelines for Pap tests have been evolving over the last decade, so it’s important to discuss with your doctor what frequency is right for you. Although you don’t need an annual visit to a gynecologist, they are a good resource if you would like to discuss menstruation, birth control options, PMS, hormone or sexual issues.
Although men don’t need to see a urologist regularly if they don’t have specific concerns, it’s still important to make sure to get an annual prostate exam starting at the age of 50. Men with higher risks such as a family history of prostate cancer should consider beginning these tests at the age of 40. Prostate cancer screening includes both a digital rectal screening performed by either a urologist or primary care doctor and the PSA blood test.
How often do I need a mammogram?
Breast tissue should be examined through a mammogram (which is just another word for an x-ray of the breast) beginning at the age of 40. When you reach the age of 45, mammograms should become an annual activity until the age of 55. After the age of 55, discuss with your doctor if continuing annual exams is the right choice for you or if you can reduce the frequency to once every two years.
How often do I need a colonoscopy?
Good news here. In general, healthy people should schedule their first colonoscopy at the age of 50. If there are no unusual findings and you are healthy with no symptoms, it’s generally considered safe to wait another ten years before the next colonoscopy is necessary.
If you have a recurring prescription (or just want to plan ahead for any medication needs in 2022), you might consider signing up for a digital pharmacy that offers free delivery—in other words, taking a lot of the legwork out of your medication needs. At Medly, we manage your medications and refills and send them to you on time, so you don’t have to keep track of the dates, and we’re here to answer any questions you might have along the way.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your flu shot—consider adding a reminder into your calendar for September or October. These months are the optimum time for getting an annual flu shot. Because flu shots are designed each year to prevent the most common flu of that particular season, you’ll want to make sure you get your flu shot each year. The CDC recommends everyone be vaccinated against influenza by the end of October.
It’s not a bad idea to keep track of dates for other vaccinations, including your COVID vaccine, or any immunizations needed for school or travel.
This is your gentle reminder that self-care goes beyond the physical—it’s important to pay mind to our emotional and mental state, too. As you reflect ahead to the new year, you might consider what would best support your needs: Whether that’s committing to key habits, like journaling or meditation, or seeking support from a professional. If you already have a protocol in place for your mental health, now is a good time to check in and adjust if needed.
Skip the fad diets and punishing workouts. Instead, focus on eating a balanced, healthy diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods when possible—think fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. When it comes to an exercise routine, start by simply moving your body every day in a way that you enjoy.
Research shows that these moderate habits can make a sizeable difference when it comes to long-term overall health, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, increasing life expectancy, and even supporting mental wellbeing. The trick, of course, is creating habits that you know you can stick with for the long haul, so it’s up to you to define what that means for you. A few ideas:
And of course, don’t forget to drink plenty of water, aim for 7+ hours of sleep each night, and reduce your screen time when you can. In other words, it’s often the little things that can make a world of difference.
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