At a certain age, men need to start scheduling regular health checks for certain conditions.
But at what age should you start, what conditions do you need to screen for, and how do you go about it?
It can be confusing and overwhelming, and many factors (your age, lifestyle, family history, and health, for example) can influence how often you need a check-up.
The Better Health Channel — a Victorian Government-funded health and medical information provider — states health checks can be crucial for your health and wellbeing:
“Men need regular health checks. As you get older, it can take a while to realise you’re not bulletproof when it comes to your health. Especially if you’re putting off important check-ups or taking an 'it’ll be all right' attitude towards any symptoms you’re experiencing.
“Medical check-ups help you stay healthy … and [can] pick up early warning signs of disease or illness.
“Diseases such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes and some cancers can often be picked up in their early stages, when treatment may minimise or prevent complications and progress.
“When you have a health check, your doctor will talk to you about your medical history, your family’s history of disease and your lifestyle. They may also talk to you about your diet, your weight, how much you exercise and whether you smoke or drink.
“If you have high risk factors, it may be more likely that you will develop a particular disease. Regular check-ups may help your doctor pick up early warning signs. For example, high blood pressure may be an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease.”
Treat your health like you do your car — schedule a regular service
Healthy Male’s Spanner in the Works toolkit, developed with the Australian Men’s Sheds Association, is a free resource that provides Australian men with an ongoing service and maintenance schedule throughout their lives.
It suggests monitoring your health as you do your car, by scheduling regular maintenance. The toolkit states that knowing when to have your car checked is no different than keeping your body in peak condition.
“Our most valuable piece of machinery is our own health and wellbeing,” says Healthy Male CEO Simon von Saldern. “If we break down, then we’re unable to operate all the other machinery that we have. When it comes to looking after ourselves though we’re generally not so good! We mostly don’t have a ‘maintenance schedule’ and tend to use a ‘wait and see’ approach.
“Spanner in the Works provides you with a maintenance schedule for your body, and some key health messages in a way that is understandable and achievable.
“Often, minor adjustments can have a major impact on your health, relationships with loved ones, your friends and work. Most importantly, we want you to put yourself ‘over the pits’ each year by getting a full health check through your GP.”
So, what health checks should men have, and when?
Now we know regular health check-ups are important, but where, how and when do you start?
As always, your GP is the best starting point — ask your doctor what health checks you need next time you have an appointment, and be guided by their advice.
Health Direct — Australia’s national virtual public health information service — has a valuable list of the “most common health issues for men, and how to screen for them to keep on top of your health”:
- Heart health: One of the main screening tests for adults is for heart health. You should have a heart health check at least once every two years once you're over 45, or once you're over 35 if you're Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This usually involves questions about your lifestyle and family, and a blood pressure check. You might also need a blood cholesterol test
- Diabetes: Your doctor may recommend you complete the Australian type 2 diabetes risk assessment tool to determine your risk level. You might then be advised to have a fasting blood sugar test for diabetes at every one to three years, depending on your level of risk
- Hearing and eyesight: Hearing loss and eyesight problems become common with age. People aged 40 years and over should have an eye test every 2–3 years. However, you should have a test more regularly if you have risk factors such as diabetes, a family history of eye disease, high blood pressure or if you are aged 65 or over. At the age of 65+, you should have yearly hearing tests. If you are regularly exposed to loud noises at work, you should also get your hearing checked regularly,
- Prostate cancer: No test is recommended for screening in men. Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about prostate cancer, for example, if you have symptoms or if you have a close relative who had prostate cancer. For more information, see the Cancer Council's website
- Bowel cancer: A faecal occult blood test (stool sample test) is recommended every two years if you are aged 50 or above. If you are at increased risk, you may be advised to have a colonoscopy
- Skin cancer: Check your moles for any changes every three months. See your doctor regularly for a full body skin check, especially if you work outdoors or have had skin cancer before
- Depression: Some men have depression that is not recognised by them or by those around them. If you feel down, irritable or angry and lose interest in things you usually enjoy, talk to your doctor. Visit beyondblue’s Man Therapy website for resources to help men with mental problems
- Teeth: You should see a dentist for a check-up once a year, while children should be checked every six months.