Annual physical examinations are meant not just for those who are struggling with their health or are being required to receive one–they’re the best form of preventative medicine available.
It’s recommended that all individuals over the age of three should receive a physical examination once every year, while newborns and toddlers receive examinations at a more set interval.
These screenings can uncover many common cancers, lifestyle-induced issues such as hypertension or diabetes, or even some mental health issues. Oftentimes, silent problems such as anxiety or depression can be diagnosed through a physical, through examinations of bodily processes or a mental health questionnaire.
Even for those who are healthy, a regular physical exam is an important means of preventative medicine. A full body exam is performed, along with some lab workups, that can identify common problems you may not even know you’re experiencing from your day-to-day life. The goal of these tests is to catch problems in early stages, before they progress to become an issue that can have more serious implications.
The biggest benefit of doing these check-ups annually is so that you and your physician know your “baseline” levels. For this reason, it’s important to get a good night of sleep, eat a healthy meal, and hydrate before your physical. Without a baseline, it is hard to tell what problems are new, and which are within normal ranges for each individual.
“During a physical we do a general exam that entails setting baselines and checking various organ systems,” says Dr. Rajiv Punn, a Board Certified Family Medicine physician with Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health. “While during a physical we do address any acute problems, most of the time the physical exam is a routine that stays relatively similar year-to-year.”
As one gets older, a few things do change with annual examinations. With women, breast exams become crucial once one hits the age of 40. For men, rectal and prostate examinations are necessary at the age of 50. However, for the most part, a physical will stay relatively consistent from one year to the next.
While the primary goal of a physical exam is to identify physical problems, mental health issues can be uncovered as well. The presence of such mental illness can arise through physical manifestations, such as high blood pressure, or as part of a mental health questionnaire.
“Mental health checks during physical exams often identify those at risk to commit suicidal and homicidal ideations,” Dr. Punn said. “These are usually thwarted by the medical provider after calming the patient down and identifying the patient’s patterns and triggers.”
Ultimately, Dr. Punn says, the most important takeaway from a physical exam is one’s BMI. While not a perfect measure of health, Punn says it should be the one thing to note for patients who may not be examining their results too closely.
The ideal BMI for a healthy individual is 18.5–24.9, derived primarily from height and weight. Staying within the ideal range, which is different for each person, can prevent many lifestyle diseases that a regular physical exam may uncover.
If you or a loved one are in need of a physical examination, or simply need a primary care physician, Dr. Punn is actively enrolling new patients. His office can be reached at (914) 273-3404.