Are Annual Physicals Worth It?


I’m not going to be breaking any new ground when I say that our American healthcare system is not exactly functioning at its best. I can also safely say that it is not the best in the world. On top of that, I feel pretty comfortable in asserting that Americans themselves are not the world's healthiest people. Our collective lack of basic affordable healthcare is a part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that people wait entirely too long before they go see a doctor about a potential illness. There is that old stereotype about the unreasonably stubborn man, the kind of guy who refuses to ask for directions because he “knows where he is.” Turns out it is not just directions that men can be stubborn about, but their own health as well.

I want you to go along with me a moment here. Consider the motorcycle for a few minutes. Think about how it is constructed. Think about the series of interlocking parts that feed off of one another and how these parts rely on each other to perform their function. Think about what would happen if one of these parts say the radiator, would start to underperform or spring some sort of a leak. Think about what would happen if the engine just decided to sputter out and die while you were riding it. Think about the devastation and bodily harm that could potentially befall you. This would be bad so you perform maintenance on the motorcycle, you check to make sure it is running properly before you use it for long stretches of time. Even when the bike is running in tip-top shape you still check all the levels and fluids, just because you want to stay on top of everything.  Now replace the aforementioned motorcycle with the human body, your body. That is why you should always invest in yearly checkups with a general practitioner.

In the interest of objectivity, I will say that there are arguments to be had saying that yearly physical check-ups are not required at best and are wasteful and time-consuming at worst. There are a few basic rules of thumb. Generally, if you are under 30 and in good health, you don’t smoke or take any prescription drugs, you should go for a checkup every 2 or 3 years. This sort of preventative care allows you to have a good baseline read on your body. It gives you a good roadmap for the years ahead and what you need to adjust to your lifestyle in order to keep your health where you want it to be. Many doctors agree that only healthy people 50 years and older should be getting annual health exams.

My personal inclination is to believe them. They are the experts, after all, they know better than me. I do want to make the point, however, that the majority of people reading this probably do not fit into those three neat categories. Speaking from personal experience I don’t believe I can name a single friend, family member, or acquaintance that is in perfect health. I mean that to say that I do not know anyone who does not drink, smoke, or is prescribed some sort of medication for a physical or mental health issue. I have the suspicion that I am not alone in that regard. Your weight, your family medical history and even the area in which you live all factor into whether or not you should seek regular physical examinations.

These physical checkups are not just having a doctor give you an all clear. A big part of it is giving you some one on one time with your doctor. We have all been there. We feel a little under the weather or we find a strange new bump where there wasn’t a bump before. We end up googling it on WebMD and then spend the next half hour trying to convince ourselves that we don’t have a form of flesh-eating bacteria. Talking to your doctor circumvents all of that.

Ultimately this issues comes down to a few factors. The first and foremost being cost. If you can’t afford to go see a doctor for a yearly physical checkup then that is the end of that. If you can afford to go to your doctor annually, I don’t believe it is a bad idea. It might be “unnecessary”, but it allows you have to get some face time with your doctor. This allows you to express any and all health concerns you might have. In addition to that, it’s been shown that seeing a doctor regularly does help set and reaffirm positive life choices and habits. After all, there is little more effective than a medical professional telling you that your lifestyle is slowly killing you and how to change it.