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How Self-Checks Can Be Part of Your Regular Health Routine

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Genevieve Cunningham


The start of every year is often a time of personal renewal. It’s time to look in the mirror and turn our time and attention to something important. Something personal. Something that might be life-changing. With National Self-Check Month officially kicking off on February 1, it’s time to start looking at your health with a fresh set of eyes. Your own.

The truth is that early detection can save lives. The better we know our bodies, the faster we can spot changes and the faster we may be able to get help. But what do self-checks look like? And what are we even looking for? Luckily, self-checks are probably a lot easier than you think.

What Are Self-Checks?

A typical health check is a series of tests and screenings performed with the purpose of finding potential problems before major symptoms arise. In a doctor’s office setting, this looks like yearly well-checks, blood tests, heart rate and blood pressure monitoring, and more. At-home self-checks help us monitor various aspects of our health in a noninvasive way. They’re a great companion to regular doctor visits. But what body parts and systems should be in a self-check routine? Essentially the answer is everywhere. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Self-Check for Neurological Health

Your neurological condition is one of the most important aspects of overall health, but sadly, its decline is easily overlooked. Oftentimes, it’s not until other people point out noticeable symptoms that we even realize something is amiss. To self-check your neurological health, consider trying tests such as this one. It incorporates various body movements with your eyes both open and closed to check the state of the nervous system.

Self-Check for Mental Health

It’s important to clarify that neurological health isn’t the same as mental health. Mental health self-checks determine the state of our emotions, and can be done by regular journaling, answering self-reflective questions about our own lives, and regularly checking in with ourselves about anxiety, anger, dissatisfaction, or depressive states. Mental health self-checks are especially important for quality of life.

Self-Check for Vision and Eye Health

If you wear glasses or contacts, you may already be in the habit of noticing changes in vision over the years. But glasses or not, it’s a good idea to check your vision. To do it at home, you can print and hang an eye chart, step back with something to cover one eye at a time, and read the lines as far down as you can. Keep track of your results, and bring up any changes or questions with your eye doctor. You should keep your doctor up to date on general eye health as well, including things such as red, itchy, or watery eyes, eye pain, or headaches.

Self-Check for Ear Health

Did you know that 15 percent of Americans have trouble hearing? As we age, this number grows. For Americans over the age of 65, hearing loss is a problem for approximately 1 in 3. Most of the time, the decline is so gradual that we don’t even notice. Any changes in hearing, ringing in the ears, or ongoing discomfort, should warrant professional help. A hearing specialist can help determine whether you need hearing aids or additional testing. They can also look inside the ear canal and middle ear to check for physical malformations or obstructions. Even without symptoms, you may consider using online hearing tests such as this. The sooner you get help for hearing problems, the sooner you can put the music back in your life.

Self-Check for Respiratory Health

There’s little any of us can do without a healthy set of lungs. Although nothing can take the place of a professional’s care, it’s easy to check respiratory health with the use of an at-home peak flow meter. This is a small gadget that you blow into to determine your airflow rate. If you don’t have this device, you can also use a stopwatch to see how long you are able to exhale a deep breath.

An even easier way to check respiratory health is to pay attention to breathing patterns. Do you get out of breath easily while walking or going upstairs? Are you short of breath when doing simple activities? Is it suddenly harder to breathe or take deep breaths? If the answer is yes, see a doctor.

Self-Check for Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular health includes the heart and the blood vessels. The state of your cardiovascular health determines how efficiently blood is pumped around the body. And since heart disease, and subsequently heart failure, is the No. 1 cause of death for adults in the United States, this is a big one. To check heart health at home, consider the stairs test. It’s simple: If it takes you more than 90 seconds to climb four flights of stairs, you should get your heart checked. You can also frequently check your resting heart rate by counting how many times your heart beats in 15 seconds, and then multiplying by four. This will give you a resting heart rate, which should typically fall between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Self-Check for Digestive Health

Digestive self-checks are all about observation. Make note of changes in bathroom habits. Write it down over a period of time. Pain, frequency, consistency, and any major changes can be big clues as to the state of your gut.

Self-Check for Reproductive Health

For both men and women, self-checks for reproductive health are important no matter the age of the adult. The first step is observation. Take note of any changes or pain in the body. It also includes performing a breast self exam for women and a testicular self exam for men in order to check for cancer. Recent research indicates that cancer rates for those under the age of 50 are growing, making this an especially important step. Of course, these self-checks should always be accompanied by regular visits to your reproductive health specialist.

Self-Check for Skin Health

Rates of skin cancer are rising. Between exposure to the sun and environmental elements, it’s crucial to check the skin on a regular basis. Watch for moles and freckles that are changing in size, color, or texture. You should also keep an eye on sores that won’t heal. But even beyond cancer, there are numerous skin conditions we should watch and manage, including eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and more. For any areas of the body that you can’t quite see -- like the back -- ask a trusted friend or family member to help you out.

Self-Check for Musculoskeletal Health

Self-checking musculoskeletal health can help you maintain mobility, flexibility, and pain-free living. This includes checking for soft tissue injuries, joint stiffness and discomfort, changes in flexibility, and overall discomfort during movement and activity. You should call your doctor when you notice changes in your ability to move, any swelling or pain, stiffness, or problems with balance. You can self-monitor these parts of your health all the time, every day, any time you’re moving. You can also visit your chiropractor to help you stay on top of this part of your health.

It can’t be emphasized enough that prevention and early detection can absolutely save your health -- and maybe even your life. We can’t see a doctor every single day. It’s not affordable or practical. But we can serve as our own health advocates. We can monitor our own bodies and become experts on the way our bodies look and function. Self-checks can and should be a part of your routine, and now is the best time to start taking a closer look at yourself.

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