Experts in the Media

Donna Stambulich – House of Wellness

Clinical Psychologist (Registrar)

Crucial health checks to start your year right.

A yearly health check can help you detect any problems early or at the very least, give you peace of mind.

How many of us can honestly say we look after ourselves in the same way we care for our kids, jobs, homes and even pets?

For some of us, that means we are ticking time bombs, needlessly putting our health at risk.

A 2021 study by researchers at the Dobney Hypertension Centre in Perth found almost 60 per cent of Australians who have high blood pressure – one of the biggest risk factors for stroke, coronary heart disease and chronic kidney disease – are not receiving treatment, and some don’t even know they have it.

“Our physical and emotional wellness is so important because it shapes nearly every aspect of everyday life,” naturopath Chloe Chivers says.

“Through regular wellness practices, and by having an annual health check-in to track how we’re doing, we can restore balance in our bodies and mind.”

Listen to your body’s symptoms

A 2021 Northwestern Medicine study found annual health check-ups led to greater chronic disease recognition and treatment, risk-factor control, preventive service uptake and improved patient-reported outcomes.

Sydney GP Dr Michela Sorensen says a yearly check can not only help prevent certain diseases and illnesses, it also encourages us to make positive health changes.

“In the same way that we give our houses a spring clean, the warmer weather is a great time to do the same for our bodies,” Dr Sorensen says.

“Summer also tends to be the time people start a fitness kick, which is great, but it’s a good idea to see your doctor first.”

Chloe says whether it is summer or not, it is important to listen to what your body is telling you.

“Your body talks to you through symptoms, giving you important feedback, telling you when things are out of balance and need some attention,” she says.

“Common signs things might not be right can include intense premenstrual symptoms and period pain, really heavy periods, always feeling tired or stressed, depression, insomnia, constant headaches, gut troubles like constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, bad breath and indigestion, and recurring infections like thrush, urinary tract infections and colds.”

Best health checks to start your year

General health

Go to your doctor and have a “top to toe” health check.

Dr Sorensen says your GP is the first port of call for preventative care and can decide whether you need to see a specialist about any particular problems.

A general check-up usually involves speaking to your GP about your medical history and lifestyle, including your diet, physical activity, alcohol intake and smoking history, and whether you are showing any worrying medical symptoms.

“We check your height, weight, abdominal circumference and blood pressure, and look at sleep patterns, energy levels and exercise habits,” Dr Sorensen says.

“Other checks include bowel habits, whether you get headaches or dizziness, how your menstrual cycle is tracking and whether you’re showing signs of being perimenopausal.

“We check whether you’ve had your screenings for bowel cancer, cervical and breast cancer for women, and prostate cancer for men, and we look at your skin.”

Chloe says annual blood tests are also an insightful way to track trends in your health.

“Ask your GP or naturopath to check your complete blood count, kidney and liver function, thyroid hormones, cholesterol profile and your iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate levels, and your fasting blood glucose levels,” she says.

Eyes, teeth and hearing

Specialist eye checks aren’t only about your vision.

Optometrist Harry Melides says they can also pick up a host of health problems.

“Not only macular disease, but diabetes, and whether you’ve had a stroke, glaucoma – certain systemic diseases like that show up when we look into the eyes,” Dr Melides says.

The Australian Dental Association, which suggests a check-up at least every 12 months, says regardless of how you feel about your overall oral health, it is also important to see a dentist regularly, with preventative dental the key to protecting your teeth.

And, if you have hearing loss or think your hearing may be damaged, ask your doctor to refer you to an audiologist.

Mental health

Psychologist Donna Stambulich says protecting your mental health is easier than you might think, but you need to take time to listen to your body, thoughts and feelings.

“With summer comes more social outings and more opportunity to break good habits,” Donna says.

“But you can enjoy everything the summer and holiday season has to offer without compromising your mental health.

“If you notice changes to your appetite, sleep, motivation levels, your enjoyment in things, or find yourself becoming irritable or having difficulty concentrating, these can be signs that you’re not running so well.

“If these symptoms last more than a couple of weeks or start to impact your day-to-day functioning, then maybe it’s time to reach out for professional help or a trusted friend.”

Lifestyle check-in

“Are you having lots of fresh seasonal foods with plenty of lean protein, good fats, fruit and vegies and filtered water?” Donna says.

“Are you getting enough restful sleep each night?

“Is there enough balance in your life?

“Book yourself a massage, spend time in nature, or journaling or reflecting, and with the people and animals you love.”

How to get fit

20FIT Australia co-founder and director Imogen van Haagen suggests setting specific and achievable goals if your yearly health check involves setting up a new fitness routine.

“When coming out of a winter slump and creating a new fitness regimen in the summer, it’s really important to start with marginal gains,” Imogen advises.

“Rather than saying I want to lose weight, aim for an achievable half a kilo a week.

“And find a physical activity you really enjoy, that makes your heart sing.

“If you’re someone who hates the gym, then doing that is going to be like climbing a mountain.

“You might prefer to be out in nature – so try walking by the beach or around a lake, or trek through the hills.

“Aim for 20 minutes a day and build on that.

“Don’t overdo it. Just get those endorphins going and you’ll feel great.”

Written by Liz McGrath.