Living in middle age can be good, great or just plain awful if you’re not healthy. Now that you have more time for yourself, it might be good to think about things you can do to ensure that your health stays good. There are at least ten health checks you can do yourself or have a professional do to help with that.
1. Feel It On The First
You read it right–feel it! Many women never do a breast self exam. They get busy and just plain forget. Mark your calendar to do a self exam every single month on the first day of the month. Easy!
2. Get a Mammogram
Getting a mammogram should be a no brainer but so many women avoid them altogether. Please please do not do that! Some breast cancers grow like wildfire and missing a yearly exam may be deadly. These days there are many Women’s Breast Clinics that are almost spa like and that takes the edge off the fear and concern that some women have about the procedure. You’ll check in for your appointment, fill out some forms and wait to be called back to the changing area. Some centers have a nice spa robe and others will have a light cotton gown that opens in the front for you to change into. After changing, grab a magazine and take a deep breath. Just relax! The tech will then come to get you and take you to the exam room. Be prepared that it can be chilly in the room but thats normal. The machines can put out a lot of heat so they keep the room cool for patients. The tech will ask you to place your breast on the clear plate in front of you and then they gently lower the top plate on to the breast. This helps the machine get a good clear view of what is inside the skin and tissue. If it hurts then it is too tight and you need to say something. The machine is easily adjusted up or down to accommodate your height. Once in place the tech will take a series of images with the machine which will then be read by the Radiologist to look for any potential lumps or masses that might require additional screening. Ask for the newer 3D Mammogram or Tomosynthesis. This method gets a much clearer image and can find things that an old school 2D mammogram cannot. It can also rule out things that in the past may have required a second look. If you do not have insurance there are many organizations that offer free mammograms to uninsured women. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers free screenings nationwide. Click here to see what is offered in your area. This is the number one thing that women age 40 and older can do to protect their health. Please do it now! Your life may depend on it.
3. Colonoscopy Time
The only health check more feared than a mammogram is a colonoscopy. It really isn’t as awful as people make it out to be. The good news is that current medical guidelines recommend that it be done every ten years. Thats right just once ever 10 years. The prep is actually the worst part and even that has improved recently with the advent of new medically prescribed drinks that empty out your intestines prior to the procedure. Your doctor will chat with you before the actual procedure itself and then the anesthesia is administered. The next thing you know, you’ll be awake in the recovery room. After about thirty minutes or so they’ll have you up and dressed. Then you’ll get instructions on what to do when you get home. If there was anything notable found during the exam they’ll let you know and refer you to a specialist to deal with that. If not, they’ll release you. Someone will have to be there to drive you home with a stop on the way to get something to eat. That’s all there is to it! Easy, safe and you’re done.
4. Yearly Physical
Most insurance plans cover a yearly physical examination. Its a good time to see how your overall health is doing at least once per year. The doctor will ask you a lot of questions about your health and habits. They’ll take blood samples to check for things like iron levels and cholesterol. They will listen to your heart as well. Usually for most it is a good reminder of just taking care of ourselves when we see our cholesterol level and our weight on the scale. The doctor will make recommendations for either more testing if something seems off or just tell us to lose weight and exercise more. Its a great thing to remember to do. Call and set the appointment today! If you do not have a primary care physician, this is a good way to get one. Ask friends who their physician is and plan to see that person. Use the physical as kind of an interview time so if something does come up you have a doctor that you’re familiar with when you need him or her.
5. Check Your Balance
This is a super easy thing you can do at home that can be very telling. Simply cross your arms across your chest and stand on one leg with your eyes closed. You should be able to do this for at least 30 seconds. If you cannot do it for that long then you have balance issues. This could mean there is an inner ear problem or just a musculoskeletal problem. Call your primary care doctor to discuss ways to improve balance based on the issues you might have.
6. Eye Exam
A yearly eye exam is a must. Even people who don’t wear glasses should be getting their eyes checked yearly when they reach age 60. Before that you should be checked once every two years. Vision changes can sneak up on us quickly. A comprehensive exam can reveal medical problems like glaucoma or macular degeneration. Cataracts are also something that gradually occur and we might not even realize that we have. An eye doctor (ophthalmologist) can find these things with an exam. At the end of the exam they will give you a prescription for new glasses or contacts or maybe just recommend a specific strength of reading glasses that can be purchased at any drug store. But if there is something more serious they will catch it earlier rather than later and advise on a treatment plan.
7. Mole Check
A yearly visit to the dermatologist is not something most people think about but it is a smart thing to do. A dermatologist specializes in treating conditions of the skin, hair and nails. They will look over your entire body for things like skin cancer, eczema, hair loss and more. This is especially important for people who live alone. There often isn’t anyone who sees the parts of you that you cannot see up close. A dangerous mole could be on your back and you might not ever know it unless you have a skin exam. Make the time and effort to do this–its important.
8. Fitness Test
This is a series of simple tests you can do in the comfort of your own home. You can measure things like your heart rate, strength and flexibility. All take just a few minutes and will give you an idea of where you’re strong and where you might need to gain improvement. For exact details on how to do the test, visit the Mayo Clinic website by clicking here. This is a great way to find out where you are at fitness wise, especially if you plan to start a new fitness routine. These short tests will give you a baseline to begin working from. Then you can chart your progress and see how much you improve over time.
9. Mental Health Evaluation
All of us feel a need for help with our mental help from time to time. Changes in life such as divorce, death of a spouse, new job or job loss might trigger feelings that we aren’t comfortable with. Before calling in a counselor or Psychiatrist, it might be wise to take a simple assessment to see if you need professional help. There are lots of simple online tests that will ask you a series of questions about how you are feeling emotionally. Then at the end the test is scored and a recommendation may or may not be made to seek professional help. One such test can be found by clicking here. Answer the questions honestly and don’t worry about anyone knowing who you are. Its an anonymous test just for your own benefit. If you need a referral to a specific mental health professional its always good to ask your primary care doctor or a friend who has a good recommendation that you can start with. There isn’t any shame in seeking help. Mental health is no different from physical help. Sometimes we need attention to both.
10. Bone Density Test
A bone density test is the only way to know if you have or might be prone to osteoporosis which is a disease common to post menopausal women. This test will measure the amount of bone currently in bones, hips and spine. If you fall below the recommended levels your physician will recommend a treatment plan. Many times these tests can be done a local health fairs at community centers or places of employment. It is a good thing to have over the age of 50 for all women. The fix might be as simple as increasing vitamin intake or a medication to help keep bone levels at a certain point. This is critical for many women as they begin to age.
All of these tests are important but often overlooked. Women are especially guilty of taking care of others first. Remember what they say on the airplane safety demo? “Put on your mask first before assisting others!” You won’t be able to help anyone if you are sick due to overall neglect of your health and well being. Take care of yourself by doing these ten simple checks at least one time per year. Your body and your loved ones will thank you for it.