Why regular health checks are so important

Global access to healthcare

10 June 2019

As we get older, we tend to worry a little more about our health. By going for routine health checks, you can start to build a picture of your health and ease those worries both now, and in the future. 

Sometimes just the thought of going for a health check isn’t very appealing. Whether it’s down to a lack of understanding, the uncertainty of the results, or the dread of the procedures, many of us are avoiding health screenings. In fact, on average only 33% of people who could benefit from them are attending regular health checks1. But it’s time to change that. 

Georgina Camfield image

Written by Georgina Camfield

Georgina is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and a qualified fitness instructor.  

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So, what is a health check?

Health checks are designed to assess the risk of potential medical conditions that we could develop, and spot any warning signs that we might not have noticed ourselves.  

Having a health check is different to a standard appointment with your primary care doctor. If you have a specific concern about your health, then you should speak to a primary care doctor, whereas a health check will assess a variety of conditions as a precaution, whether you’ve symptoms or not. Whilst a health check doesn’t prevent you from developing a health problem, it can make you aware of areas where you may have a higher risk, and can give you advice and guidance on how to take action to lower that risk. And if you’re moving abroad, a health assessment prior to departure could even highlight things to consider in your new location that might exacerbate any potential health risks. 

By detecting these warning signs early on, you can reduce your risk of health problems such as kidney disease, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia - and the earlier your risk is detected, the easier it is to act upon. 

Are health checks really worth having?

Just because you feel well doesn’t always mean that you’re not at risk of lifestyle diseases. High blood pressure and high cholesterol for example, can be warning signs of cardiovascular disease. These are what are known as ‘silent killers’ as they often carry no signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to know health measures such as your blood pressure or cholesterol so that these health risks don’t go unnoticed. 

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors are factors that increase your risk of developing a health condition. Some risk factors are considered as modifiable whilst some are non-modifiable. 

Modifiable risk factors are lifestyle factors that have an impact on our risk of developing lifestyle related diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These are factors that we can change to either increase, or reduce our risks. 

Non-modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, are factors that we’re not able to change or control, such as family history and our age, which can put us at a higher risk of developing these conditions. 

Modifiable

Non-Modifiable

Weight

Age

Waist measurement

Gender

Physical activity levels

Family history

Sleep quality

Ethnicity

Diet quality

Alcohol consumption

Stress management

Whilst you can see that there are a few non- modifiable risk factors, which are out of our control, there are many more modifiable risk factors that we can do something about to lower our risk of developing health conditions. By identifying any risk of diseases through a health check and understanding your health numbers, you’ll be able to discuss with your health professional what changes you can make to your lifestyle to impact your health for the better. 

For example, if during a health check you find out that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, meaning you’re at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, you can make lifestyle changes to bring your blood sugars into a healthier range. During your health check, you can talk with the doctor about the best next steps and changes you can make, such as getting more active and improving your sleep.

Identify any issues early with regular health checks 

Over 95% of the world’s population has health problems of some kind, with over a third having more than five ailments according to The Lancet2. In the UK alone, research suggests that for every 110 people having a health check, one person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, whilst one in every 256 people checked are diagnosed with a kidney disease3. Having something flagged during a health check is an important part of keeping your health, in check – knowing any health problems early on and being proactive with your health, gives you the potential to live longer and in a better quality of health.

Whilst we can’t live completely risk free when it comes to our health, we can at least do our best to reduce these risks. With or without a health check, you can kick start a healthier lifestyle today.

If you’d like to know more about what happens in a health check, take a look at our Health Checks by age article . 

Sources: 
1. Reasons why people do not attend health checks: a systematic review and qualitative synthesis https://bjgp.org/content/68/666/e28  
2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150608081753.htm   
3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/pros-and-cons-of-the-nhs-health-check/