As we get older, many of us become more committed to taking better care of ourselves and trying to boost our health and fitness. But, it can still be difficult to be sure of exactly what condition our bodies are really in – or whether we’re at risk of developing certain diseases.
While it’s normal to spend time and money ensuring our cars don’t break down, we don’t always do the same for our bodies. Yet, investing a bit of time to undergo routine health checks can not only assure us that we’re in good health, but also has the potential to save lives.
Because age is a risk factor for many health conditions (such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and most forms of cancer), it can be helpful to learn more about the different health checks that are recommended for people over 50.
Of course, just because there’s a health test available, this doesn’t always mean that it’ll be the right choice for you. But knowing which tests are out there allows us to make informed decisions about our health and feel confident that we’re taking the right precautions.
With that said, here are 11 important health checks for over 50s.
1. NHS health check
For a general health check, there’s a free NHS Health Check which is made available to all people aged between 40 and 74 who don’t already have certain pre-existing conditions.
NHS health checks can tell you whether you’re at higher risk of developing certain health problems like heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and stroke. It used to be the case that patients would receive a letter from their GP surgery or local council inviting them to a health check every five years. However, while these appointments are no longer sent out, they are available upon request.
During your NHS health check, you’ll have your cardiovascular risk calculated and explained. This relates to how likely it is that you may develop conditions related to the heart or circulation – like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and certain types of dementia.
You’ll also be given advice on how to protect yourself against these diseases – and if you’re over 65, the common signs and symptoms of dementia will also be explained to you.
The NHS Health Check can help to identify potential health problems before they have the opportunity to do lasting damage. A recent study found that up to 8,400 heart attacks and strokes were prevented because people had the NHS health check, so it’s well worth taking advantage of.
To find out more, head over to the NHS Health Check website.
2. Eyesight checks
Eye tests aren’t only about whether you might need glasses or a new lens prescription – they’re also an important way to spot the early signs of health issues you might not be aware of.
For example, diabetes can lead to retinopathy, which causes long-term damage to eyesight. If your blood sugar levels are too high for a long period of time, the delicate blood vessels in your eyes can become damaged – but this is a problem an optician should be able to spot during a routine eye test.
Eye tests can also spot the early symptoms of glaucoma, which is the second most common cause of blindness in the world. Glaucoma can affect anyone, but people aged 60 and over are more at risk, and early diagnosis can increase the chance of protecting your sight.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which causes blurred vision in the middle of your eyes, is another condition that can be spotted during a routine eye test. For more information on glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and other eye conditions to look out for, have a read of our article; 10 age-related eye problems you should know about.
To make sure you’re protecting your eyes as much as possible in day-to-day life, you might also want to read our article on ways to keep your eyes healthy – which includes tips such as wearing good quality sunglasses and lowering or regulating your blood sugar levels.
And, finally, to book an eye test near you, you can head over to the Boots Opticians website.
3. Cholesterol testing
Knowing whether or not your cholesterol is high – and if it is, taking steps to control it – can add years to your life.
Cholesterol is a type of fat that can build up in the arteries and can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases, like heart attacks, atherosclerosis (narrowed arteries), and strokes.
It’s important to remember that there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so you could have it without knowing. The only way to be sure is to have a cholesterol test, which your GP should invite you to every five years if you’re between 40 and 74 as part of your NHS health check. If you already take medication to reduce your cholesterol, you should have a cholesterol check at least once a year (or more if your doctor thinks it’s necessary).
You can have your cholesterol measured with a simple blood test at your GP surgery. If you do have high cholesterol, you can take steps to lower it yourself by eating a healthy diet containing plenty of fruit and veg, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
For inspiration on how to get active and increase your fitness, check out the fitness and exercise section of our website. And for healthy meal and snack ideas, you might be interested in our articles; 14 quick and healthy snack ideas and 12 healthy recipe ideas.
4. Bowel cancer screening
In the UK, bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and most people diagnosed are over 50. For this reason, everyone who’s registered with a GP and aged between 60 and 74 is entitled to a bowel cancer screening test kit every two years.
As part of plans to lower the age of those who receive the test to 50 by 2025, 56-year-olds are also now sent the test kit, and it’s currently being rolled out to 58-year-olds.
While bowel cancer screening doesn’t actually diagnose cancer, it can identify potential issues before any symptoms appear. According to the NHS, detecting bowel cancer at its earliest stage could make you nine times more likely to receive successful treatment.
However, NHS research also revealed that one-third of people who were sent the screening kit in England last year didn’t complete it. Therefore, the NHS has launched a campaign to encourage people not to put the test off and to send it in as soon as possible – as it could save your life.
The bowel screening test kits can be completed quickly and easily from the comfort of your own home. A faecal immunochemical test kit (known as the FIT kit) is sent in the post and invites participants to send their stool samples to a laboratory for analysis. You should have the results within about two weeks, and if there are any abnormal results, you’ll probably need to do some follow-up tests.
While the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, studies show that diets high in red or processed meat can increase the risk of developing bowel cancer. Smoking, drinking, and obesity are also thought to be risk factors.
To find out more about bowel cancer screening, head over to our article; NHS bowel cancer screening – the at-home test that could save your life. And for more information on improving the health of both your gut and bowels, you might like to read our article; 7 ways to improve gut health.
5. Osteoporosis scan
Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones and makes them prone to fracture.
How likely you are to develop osteoporosis depends on various factors including how much calcium your bones have acquired over the years, how much you exercise, whether you drink much alcohol or smoke, and whether you’re underweight.
Because decreased oestrogen levels can lead to bone loss, research shows that post-menopausal women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
If you believe you might be at risk of developing osteoporosis, you should speak to your GP. They may recommend that you get a DEXA scan, which is a painless and non-invasive x-ray that measures bone density and signs of osteoporosis.
You can learn more about different ways to protect your bones in our article; 9 ways to improve bone health.
Or, to find out more about dealing with osteoporosis, you could also have a read of our articles; Osteoporosis: symptoms, treatment, and prevention and Managing your menopause journey. And for more information on how to take care of your bone health, head over to the Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS) website using the button below.
6. Breast cancer screening
Around one in seven women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer at one point in their life.
Most women will receive their first invitation to attend a breast screening unit between the ages of 50 and 53. This screening then continues every three years until you turn 71. However, you can still request a screening yourself every three years after this time, if you wish.
Breast cancer screening is also called a mammogram: it involves an x-ray being taken of each breast, and the results will be sent to you and your doctor within two weeks. Most experts believe breast screening is beneficial in picking up the first signs of breast cancer – and the earlier the cancer is found, the better the chances of surviving it are.
To find out more, you can head over to the breast cancer screening section of the NHS website. You can also read about the importance of checking your breasts at home in our article; Breast cancer – symptoms, causes, and how to check your breasts at home.
7. Blood pressure check
Blood pressure checks are one of the most common health tests around, and they’re incredibly important. Blood pressure is the measure of the force of your blood within your arteries.
High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – can weaken your heart, damage your arteries, and increase your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease as a result.
Because there are no clear symptoms of high blood pressure, the only way to know whether you have it is to have your blood pressure taken. Luckily, this is quick and painless. Normal blood pressure ranges from 90/60 to 120/80, and if your blood pressure is high (140/90 or more) for several weeks, your GP will probably diagnose you with high blood pressure and discuss with you ways to lower it.
The most convenient way to check your blood pressure is to book an appointment at a local pharmacy – you can find your nearest one on the NHS website. If you’ll have to take regular blood pressure readings, it may be worth buying your own blood pressure machine: you can buy these online from Amazon, or from pharmacies like Boots and Lloyd’s.
Generally, treatment to lower blood pressure includes making lifestyle changes, like exercising more and changing your diet. If these don’t work – or if your blood pressure is unusually high – then you’re likely to be prescribed medication.
If you’re looking for some fun and accessible ways to be more active, head over to the fitness and exercise section of our website where you’ll find articles like 17 creative ways to increase your daily step count and 10 different sports and activities to try.
8. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening
Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is a way of checking whether there’s any swelling in the aorta, which is the central blood vessel that runs from your heart through to your stomach.
If there is, this bulge or swelling is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), and it can eventually burst, becoming dangerous if it isn’t spotted early on. There are often no symptoms of an AAA before it bursts, so a test could potentially save your life.
Aneurysms are more common in men than women, and for this reason men over the age of 65 are offered screening for AAA in the UK. Screening isn’t usually offered to women or men under 65, though if you think you need AAA screening, you can request it.
The screening test itself is quick and painless, and involves taking an ultrasound scan of your stomach. You can find out more about AAA screening on the NHS website.
If you currently smoke and would like to stop, it’s worth checking out the NHS stop smoking services. You might also want to read our article; 8 tips on how to break negative habits and develop positive ones.
9. Prostate cancer testing
In the UK, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It generally develops slowly, so there may be no symptoms for many years. The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown, but the risk factors increase as you get older, and most cases are seen in men over the age of 50.
Prostate cancer becomes more common if you’ve had a father or brother affected by it, and obesity is also thought to increase the risk.
Symptoms of prostate cancer can include needing to urinate more frequently, having to rush to the loo, having difficulty urinating or taking a long time to pass urine, and feeling like your bladder hasn’t emptied fully.
However, it’s important to note that these can be symptoms of other conditions too, and don’t necessarily mean you have cancer. There’s no single test for prostate cancer – the most common tests are blood tests, a physical prostate exam, an MRI scan, or a biopsy.
There’s currently no screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. This is because the screening process isn’t always accurate. However, if you’re experiencing any symptoms of prostate cancer, or have a family history of it, you should speak to your GP about your options.
It’s also important to be aware that you’re entitled to a PSA test if you’re over the age of 50, and have considered the pros and cons of the testing.
To find out more about prostate cancer testing, head over to the Prostate Cancer UK website. Our article, Prostate health over 50 – signs and symptoms to look our for, also has some useful information.
10. Cervical cancer screening
Each year, around 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK. Although, since the cervical screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cases has dropped by around 7% each year.
Cervical screening can help to protect against cancer by spotting abnormalities which, if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer.
Women aged 50 to 64 are offered an NHS cervical screening test every five years. Women over the age of 65 aren’t usually invited for screening unless they haven’t been screened for several years or have had any abnormal results in recent tests.
Test results are received within two weeks. Most are normal, but for around one in 20 women, the screening will show some abnormal changes (not necessarily cancerous) that require further investigation.
The highest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is previously being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), and almost all cervical cancer cases occur in women who’ve been infected with HPV. Smoking and having a weakened immune system are also thought to increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
To learn more about cervical screening, head over to the NHS website. Or, if you’re worried about cervical cancer screening as a result of menopause, you might find some reassurance in our article; 8 tips to make smear tests more comfortable after menopause.
11. Hearing checks
In the UK, around 40% of people over 50 will experience some form of hearing loss.
This is because as we get older, the tiny hair cells inside our ears become subject to wear and tear, although other factors, like regularly listening to loud noises or a family history of hearing loss, can also play a part. Hearing usually deteriorates gradually, which makes it difficult to pinpoint when the problems began.
You can book hearing tests with your GP. Alternatively, Hidden Hearing also offers a free hearing test. This 30 to 60-minute appointment includes a general check of ear health and a hearing test, where you’ll complete a series of tone, speech, and word tests in a sound booth.
You’ll receive your results on the same day and, if there are any issues with your hearing, you’ll receive customised hearing solutions. After the age of 50, it’s recommended that you book a hearing test every year.
While it’s important to be aware of risk factors and to get any potential issues checked out as soon you notice them, when it comes to health, prevention is often better than a cure.
Many of the most common health problems and diseases can be avoided by making lifestyle changes; like giving up smoking, cutting back on alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Making sure you get regular exercise, eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg, and eat less sugary, processed foods also goes a long way in boosting your overall health, and reducing the likelihood of developing certain diseases.
You can head over to the diet and nutrition and food and drink sections of our website to find some useful tips on eating a healthy diet, essential vitamin and mineral guides, and delicious, health-boosting recipes.
Or, if you need a dose of motivation to get moving, why not head over to the fitness and exercise section? Here you can find out about low-impact exercises like Tai Chi and power walking. Alternatively, over on Rest Less Events, you can discover fun and varied exercise classes that you can do from the comfort of your own home.
Are you planning on getting any health checks booked in soon? Or have you had any tests or screenings done recently? Perhaps you have some health tips and advice you could offer to other readers? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.