As we get older, we tend to worry a little more about our health. By going for routine health checks, you can start to build a picture of your health and ease those worries both now, and in the future.

Sometimes just the thought of going for a health check isn’t very appealing. Whether it’s down to a lack of understanding, the uncertainty of the results, or the dread of the procedures, many of us are avoiding health screenings. In fact, on average only 33% of people who could benefit from them are attending regular health checks.

So, what is a health check?

Health checks are designed to assess the risk of potential medical conditions that we could develop, and spot any warning signs that we might not have noticed ourselves.

Having a health check is different to a standard appointment with your doctor. If you have a specific concern about your health, then you should speak to your GP, whereas a health check will assess a variety of conditions as a precaution, whether you’ve symptoms or not. While a health check doesn’t prevent you from developing a health problem, it can make you aware of areas where you may have a higher risk, and can give you advice and guidance on how to take action to lower that risk.

By detecting these warning signs early on, you can reduce your risk of health problems such as kidney disease, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia – and the earlier your risk is detected, the easier it is to act upon.

Are health checks worth having?

Just because you feel well doesn’t always mean that you’re not at risk of lifestyle diseases. High blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example, can be warning signs of cardiovascular disease. These are what are known as ‘silent killers’ as they often carry no signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get these and other ‘risk factors’ checked so that, where possible, you can do something about addressing them.

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors are attributes or characteristics that increase the likelihood of you developing a disease or illness. Some are considered as modifiable while others are not.

Modifiable risk factors are related to our lifestyle and have an impact on our risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These are factors that we can change through the choices we make to lower our risks.

Non-modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, are factors that we’re not able to change or control, such as family history and our age, which can put us at a higher risk of developing these conditions.

Risk factors. Modifiable: Weight, waist measurement, physical activity levels, sleep quality, diet quality, alcohol consumption, stress management. Non-modifiable: Age, gender, family history, ethnicity.

While you can see that there are a few non-modifiable risk factors, which are outside of our control, there are many more modifiable factors that we can do something about to lower our risk of developing health conditions. By identifying any risk of diseases through a health check and understanding your health numbers, you’ll be able to discuss with your doctor or another healthcare professional what changes you can make to your lifestyle to impact your health for the better.

For example, if during a health check you find out that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, meaning you’re at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, you can make lifestyle changes to bring your blood sugar into a healthier range. During your health check, you can talk about the best next steps and changes you can make, such as getting more active and improving your sleep.

Identify any issues early with regular health checks

There are some conditions, known as non-communicable diseases, which can, in some cases, be prevented. Conditions such as kidney disease, heart attacks, hypertension (high blood pressure), respiratory diseases, and type 2 diabetes can all be flagged in a health check, which is an important part of keeping healthy. Knowing any risk factors early on and being proactive with your health gives you the potential to prevent some illnesses and live with a better quality of health.

Whilst we can’t live completely risk free when it comes to our health, we can at least do our best to reduce these risks. With or without a health check, you can kick start a healthier lifestyle today.