Ring in the New Year with an Annual Physical Exam
Picture fireworks bursting, champagne popping, the countdown to midnight, and of course, the celebration when the clock strikes 12.
In just a few days, that mental picture will be a reality as we welcome the new year. We’ll make plans, priorities, and consider all the ways that we can improve our health and wellness in the coming year.
One of the best places to start? An annual physical exam.
Sure, there are certainly more exciting parts of the New Year than getting a physical exam — but few that impact your health just as much.
Annual physical exams (APEs), also known as annual checkups or yearly physicals, are designed to assess your overall health and well-being — and prevent any potential health issues. If you don’t have one scheduled, better get to it.
Learn more about APEs, what to expect from yours, and how you can anticipate a year of happiness, health, and wellness.
What is an Annual Physical Exam?
Annual physical exams are usually conducted by your primary care provider, though the laboratory testing portion can also be completed at a nearby lab or pharmacy.
APEs grant you access to:
- Early detection of health issues
- Preventive healthcare
- Establishing a baseline for future health assessments
- Building a relationship with your healthcare provider
However, only 62% of Americans get an annual physical exam.
While many people forego annual physical exams, experts agree that they can serve important purposes — especially if you’re over the age of 65, have certain risk factors, or, if you (like more than 133 million Americans) have a chronic condition.
What to Expect During an Annual Physical Exam
During your exam, your provider will talk with you, gather information, and find out where you’re at in your health journey. They’ll also discuss next steps and what you can do to maintain your health. Typically, APEs follow this format:
- Vital sign assessment: Your annual physical exam usually starts with vitals. This includes your blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and core body temperature.
- Medical history review: Next, your provider will review your medical history, including any past illnesses, surgeries, medication, and family medical history.
- Physical examination: During the exam portion of your appointment, your provider will examine your heart, lungs, abdomen, skin, and any areas of concern.
- Lifestyle discussion: Your provider will also ask about your lifestyle and health habits. This might include your diet, exercise routine, alcohol/nicotine consumption, and stress management.
- Laboratory tests: Depending on your age, sex, and health risk factors, your healthcare provider may order laboratory tests. These tests can include blood work to assess cholesterol levels, blood glucose, and other markers of health. Some tests take place at the doctor’s office; others may need to be outsourced. If it’s the latter, many labs can be gathered at your local independent pharmacy. Typically, labs at a pharmacy are faster, cheaper, and easier than at a doctor’s office — so check with your pharmacy for availability.
During your exam, make sure you’re as honest and transparent as possible.
Your healthcare provider relies on accurate information to make informed decisions about your health, so don’t hesitate to share any concerns, symptoms, or lifestyle factors that may affect you.
When to Schedule Your Annual Physical Exam
Now that you know what to expect from your exam, you should look to book an appointment with your provider. There’s never a better time to do it than the new year.
Many people find that setting health-related goals or resolutions at the beginning of the year aligns well with their APE results and recommendations. As such, getting your exam now can help you get a fresh start and commit to a healthier lifestyle.
Regardless of when you schedule, consistency is key. Maintain a regular schedule for your annual physical exam so you can meet workplace requirements and insurance guidelines.
How to Prepare for Your Exam
After you make an appointment, you may need to do some prep work before your exam. Here are some tips to help you prepare:
- Organize medical records: Before your exam, gather and organize your medical records, including past APE results, vaccination records, and any pertinent medical history.
- Make a current medication list: Prepare a list of all the medications and supplements you take. Include the name of the medication, the dosage, and the frequency. This can help your healthcare provider assess potential drug interactions and ensure you’re taking the right medications.
- Make a list of questions: Take a few moments to jot down any questions or concerns you may have about your health. Whether it's about specific symptoms, lifestyle changes, or potential risk factors, your list can provide valuable insight.
- Follow fasting or dietary restrictions (if needed): Depending on the tests your healthcare provider plans to perform, you may need to fast for a certain period before your APE. If fasting is required, be sure to follow the instructions provided.
How to Make the Most Out of Your Exam
On exam day, make sure that you’re prepared — so you can get the most out of your appointment. Here are just a few tips to help you do it:
- Be engaged: Ask questions, offer honest answers, and discuss any concerns you may have with your provider. This can help them better understand your health and provide tailored advice.
- Discuss your goals: In addition to discussing concerns with your provider, you should also discuss your goals. Whether it's weight management, improving fitness, or managing a chronic condition, your provider can offer you guidance.
- Follow up: After your exam, make sure to follow up on any recommendations or referrals provided by your healthcare provider. This may include additional tests, specialist appointments, or lifestyle changes.
- Document and review: Keep a record of your results, recommendations, and any changes to your health over time. This will allow you to stay up to date on your health and ensure your provider can do the same.
As you prepare for the new year, make sure you prioritize your health. One of the best ways to do this is to get an annual physical exam.
Your exam can give you detailed information about your health, specific recommendations from your provider, and peace of mind knowing that you’ve handled your health.
There’s no better way to ring in the new year.