You're in your 50s. It's the prime of your life -- or it should be. Don't let illness rob you of your health.
When you go for your annual physical, make sure your doctor performs or recommends these simple tests that may save your health -- and your life -- later. (Note that your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.)
- Screening colonoscopy is recommended for everyone at 50 years old.
- Stepping on the scales. This is the age when most people start gaining weight. Watch this weight gain carefully, and fight back with healthier eating and exercise. Being overweight puts you at high risk for developing a number of diseases -- and studies show that weight loss can improve your odds.
- Blood pressure . Untreated high blood pressure is an equal opportunity killer: It kills your heart, your brain, your eyes, and your kidneys. Don't let hypertension sneak up on you. Get it tested. It's simple; it's cheap; and it's quick.
- Cholesterol profile. Do you have high cholesterol? Find out -- at least once every 5 years (more frequently if you're at risk for a heart attack). Controlling your cholesterol can add years to your life.
- Blood sugar. Untreated diabetes can destroy your health, causing heart disease, kidney failure, and blindness. Don't let it. Get a fasting blood sugar test at least once every 3 years and take control of diabetes early.
- For women only: Pelvic exam and Pap smear. Combining a Pap test with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test can safely extend the interval between cervical cancer screenings from three years to five years in many women between the ages of 30-65. Women over age 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years, according to the guidelines. But women who have risk factors for cervical cancer such as smoking, a history of HPV, or a more advanced precancer diagnosis should continue to be screened until they reach the age of 80.
- For women only: Breast exam and mammogram. At this age, don't ever let a year go by without getting a mammogram and having your doctor examine your breasts for any changes. Early detection of breast cancer can save your breast and your life.
- Looking for moles: Love your skin. Check your skin monthly for any unusual spots or moles. Be sure to ask your doctor to check your skin once a year, as well.
- Protecting your eyes. Vision-robbing diseases become more common as you age. Be sure to get your eyes examined regularly -- every 2 to 4 years until age 54 and then every 1 to 3 years after that. Go more often if you have vision problems or risk factors for eye problems.
- Checking your immunizations. People over age 50 should get a flu shot every year. And don't forget, even healthy people need a tetanus booster shot every 10 years, and one of those should contain the pertussis vaccine for whooping cough. Be sure to ask your doctor to update any immunizations that you might need. Consider Hepatitis A and B vaccines if you haven’t already had them. And after age 60 you should be vaccinated against the herpes virus that causes shingles.
Use your birthday as a gentle reminder to schedule a visit to your dentist, and call your doctor to see if there are important tests you should take. By investing an hour or two now, you may be able to add years to your life.