A routine physical may seem like a harmless, better-safe-than-sorry idea. But there is no evidence that it improves your health. There are, of course, exceptions. Here are four screens to and procedures that are worth getting.
1. Every Two Years: Hemoglobin A1c
This test measures how your body processes carbs, and it's more useful than the more common blood-glucose test. The range you're shooting for is from 4.8 to 5.6; anything higher is a signal to cut back on sugar and booze. Get it checked now if you suspect your blood sugar is abnormal (say, you often feel faint or dizzy from low blood sugar, or you've had inexplicable weight gain).
2. High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein
Known as hs-CRP, this is a general test of inflammatory markers in your blood. Amounts rate on a scale from 1 to 3; a reading above 2 indicates high inflammation levels (a harbinger of almost every chronic disease) and the need to reboot diet and exercise. Test for it immediately if you've had high-inflammation side effects: constant fatigue, digestive problems, weight gain.
3. Vitamin D Test
Low levels of D affect everything from mood to heart, brain, and metabolic health. Ask your doctor for the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test to ensure levels are at 20 ng/ml or higher.
4. Once a Decade: Colonoscopy
This disease is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Screenings reduce risk; you should get one at ages 50, 60, and 70. Why only once every 10 years? Because colon cancer grows slowly — even if you were scoped at 50 and the cancer started growing at 51, you'd still have time to catch it at 60, with the same good results. It may sound counterintuitive, but research shows that health outcomes are no better when testing for colon cancer every five years versus getting tested every 10.