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Health Checks in your 50s

Here are the important health checks for people in their 50s

A middle-aged woman chatting to a male doctor in his office
A middle-aged woman chatting to a male doctor in his office

If you remember rushing home from school to catch The Brady Bunch, using a rotary dialer to call your best friend and receiving your milk in glass jugs from the local milkman, you’re probably 50+. And, while you’re still young at heart, you might need to give your body a little TLC to keep it at its healthiest.

Your body is like a car – don’t wait for symptoms to appear; get serviced regularly to avoid any costly or difficult repairs down the track. Prevention is better than cure and there are a number of health checks Aussies over the age of 50 should be doing. A visit to your GP is the best place to start, but here are a few health checks that are easier to complete than a Rubik’s cube (so there’s no excuse):

For females:

For males:

Bowel cancer check

Bowel cancer is one of the most curable cancers if it’s caught early. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites all Aussies aged 50-74 to do a test every two years, so if you haven’t already been tested, it’s time to get (your bowel) moving.

What is a bowel cancer check?

From the age of 50, all Australians are sent an invite for a bowel cancer test kit. The FIT test is very simple and involves putting a tiny sample of toilet water onto a test card and posting it to the lab. The results are sent to you and your GP.

How often should I have a bowel cancer check?

Every two years.

Who does a bowel cancer check?

The test is done in your own home… and it’s free!

Related: How a bowel cancer test can save your life

Blood pressure check

Your GP will want to check your blood pressure regularly because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and problems with your kidneys. You usually won’t notice any symptoms, so make sure you request a check at your next doctor’s appointment.

What is a blood pressure check?

A blood pressure test measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. This test is conducted in a doctor’s surgery using a blood pressure machine and cuff.

How often should I have a blood pressure check?

At least every two years.

Who does a blood pressure check?

A doctor or nurse.

Related: Your blood pressure and how to measure it from home

Cholesterol check

A person with high cholesterol will usually experience no symptoms, and unfortunately, being a healthy weight is no guarantee that your cholesterol levels are ideal. High cholesterol and blood lipids (also known as blood fats) can lead to heart and blood vessel disease but, once diagnosed, it can be treated effectively.

What is a cholesterol check?

A simple blood test (and nowadays overnight fasting isn’t usually required, so you don’t have to go hungry!).

How often should I have a cholesterol check?

At least every five years, starting at age 45. Depending on your risk, you may need testing more often.

Who does the check?

Your GP can do the test for you, or provide you with a pathology request to have it done.

Related: Healthy cholesterol levels in Australia

Heart health check

Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, impacts one in six Australians. The good news is that heart disease can be preventable.

Your risk of this disease increases as you age and is also dependent on your family history. But, in addition to age and genetics, there are six modifiable risk factors you can talk about with your GP and address today to reduce your lifetime risk.

Getting a heart health check is a great way for your doctor to understand your risk factors including family history, blood pressure and cholesterol.

What is a heart health check?

This simply involves having a chat with your GP about your family history of heart disease, your exercise routine, diet and whether you smoke or drink alcohol. Your GP will also check your blood pressure and cholesterol and, based on the results, they might recommend that you make some lifestyle changes or start medication.

How often should I have a heart health check?

Every two years, beginning at age 45.

Who does the check?

Your GP can do the test for you.

Related: How a heart health check can save your life

Healthy weight assessment

Jumping on the scales is never any fun, but keeping within a healthy weight range is essential to looking and feeling your best. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of many chronic diseases, so it’s important to get help early if you’re gaining unhealthy weight. There are a number of things you can start to do today to reduce your risk of obesity and associated chronic disease.

What is a healthy weight assessment?

Your GP can conduct this quick test by measuring your height and weight. These numbers will be used to calculate your BMI. As part of this appointment, your waist circumference will also be measured to help determine your health.

How often should I have a healthy weight assessment? 

Every two years if you’re at average risk.

Who does the check?

Your GP can do the test for you.

Related: How a weight check can save your life

Diabetes risk test

Like other chronic conditions, diabetes prevalence increases with age. This is a chronic disease resulting in the body resisting insulin, or gradually stopping making enough of it. All people aged 40 and over should be tested to check whether they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What is a diabetes risk check?

The Australian Type 2 Diabetes Risk Assessment Tool is a questionnaire that estimates your risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the next five years. Those at high-risk should have blood tests to check their sugar levels every 1-3 years.

How often should I have a diabetes risk check?

Every three years.

Who does the check?

Your GP will ask you a series of questions.

Related: How a diabetes risk test can save your life

Kidney health check

Kidney disease is known as a silent disease, as there are often no symptoms until it is advanced. Research from The Australian Institiute of Health and Welfare suggests chronic kidney disease increases with age, especially over 50. That’s why a kidney health check is recommended for people at increased risk. Ask your doctor if this applies to you.

What is a kidney health check?

A kidney health check has three components: a blood pressure check, a urine test and a blood test. Your GP will also ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle.

How often should I have a kidney health check?

Every three years.

Who does the check?

Your GP.

Related: How a kidney health check can save your life

Dental check-up

Regular dental check-ups, which are recommended throughout life, have wide-ranging benefits. That’s because conditions that affect your teeth and mouth (such as gum disease and tooth decay) can affect your overall health as well as your smile. And if that’s not reason enough to pay a visit to the dentist, keep in mind that the prevalence of moderate to severe gum disease increases to 58 per cent among those of us aged 55 years and over.

To keep your teeth in tip-top shape, brush at least twice a day, floss once a day and book in a dental appointment at least once a year.

While you can go to any dentist recognised by nib, by visiting an nib Dental Care Centre1 eligible members can receive 100% back on dental check ups. Book an appointment online today.

What is a dental check-up?

This includes an examination of your mouth, teeth and lips. Dentists also usually clean the teeth and gums, and may offer you a fluoride treatment.

How often should I have a dental check-up?

At least once a year, but ideally every six months.

Who does the check?

Your dentist.

Eye test

Glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness) become more likely after the age of 50. Some progressive eye diseases can result in blindness, but you won’t know until it’s too late as you can’t always tell if there’s something wrong with your eyes. That’s why having regular eye checks can help detect these diseases early.

You can visit nib First Choice Optical to help you to search for local optometrists; it's our community of specially selected health providers, who have promised they will deliver quality care and value for money.

What is an eye check?

During an eye check, an optometrist will examine the outside of your eye and test your vision. They will also test how well you see colours and look at the internal structures of your eye. Your optometrist might put drops into your eyes to dilate the pupils, put your eyes through a ‘puff test’ to check the pressure inside your eyes or suggest you have a digital retinal scan. This is a special photo of your retina, which is kept to compare with your next scan. 

How often should I have an eye check?

Your optometrist will let you know how frequently you should be tested, as it depends on your overall risk. Some people are at increased risk of glaucoma, a disease which results in progressive loss of sight.

Who does an eye check?

An optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye specialist).

Related: Do I need an eye test?

Mental health check

In Australia,43 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with more than one in six people experiencing anxiety in the last 12 months and 7.5% of people experiencing a mood disorder like depression. So, if you’re suffering with your mental health, rest assured; you’re not alone.

If you’re trying to improve your own mental health, or support somebody else with mental health issues, Head to Health provides links to trusted Australian resources and treatment options.

What is a mental health check?

A mental health check is designed to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.

How often should I have a mental health check?

You should seek help if you have concerns about your mental health, or if you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling.

If you need urgent support, call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14. 

Who does the check?

Your GP will conduct the initial assessment and can provide you with a referral to see a psychologist for up to six Medicare rebatable sessions. Once those six sessions are up, you can head back to your GP to ask for a referral for more rebatable sessions, with a maximum of 10 each calendar year.

Related: seek professional help

Skin check

In Australia, we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with two out of three Aussies diagnosed by age 70. The sun safety messages weren’t as loud in our youth, and it’s likely we weren’t as careful back then. Checking over your skin and having regular skin checks by your GP or a dermatologist will help to detect any important changes early and allow any offending moles or skin lesions to be removed.

Keen to find out your risk of skin cancer? Take the personalised nib skin self-assessment now! Alternatively, if you've got a spot, mole or freckle you want to check out, it might be time to download the nib SkinVision app? With nib SkinVision, you can check your skin for signs of skin cancer anytime, anywhere – it’s as easy as downloading the app and taking a photo. You’ll receive personalised advice in minutes after uploading the photo.

What is a skin check?

A skin check involves a doctor checking over your entire body for skin cancers or suspicious lesions.

How often should I have a skin check?

There are no set intervals for most people. For people at high-risk (anyone who’s had melanoma or who has more than five moles with an unusual appearance), skin self-examination should be done every three months and full body examination by your doctor every 6-12 months. Finding a melanoma early can save your life.

Who does a skin check?

Your GP or a dermatologist (skin specialist).

Related: How a skin cancer check can save your life

Bone density check

If you’ve been active most of your life your bone density should be pretty good. But for women, the speed at which you lose bone density increases the first few years after menopause, with some women losing up to 10% bone density in the first five years after menopause. Men too suffer from decreasing bone density as they age.

That’s why it’s a good idea for your GP to assess your individual risk of osteoporosis and recommend whether you need a bone density scan. Knowing your bone density can help your GP develop a plan so you can avoid osteoporosis and fractures down the track. 

What is a bone density check?

A bone density check is a simple scan. Taking just 15 minutes, you lie clothed on a table as the scanner arm passes over you.

How often should I have a bone density check?

The frequency at which you should repeat the scan depends on your initial results.

Who does the check?

A GP measures your risk and a radiographer does the bone scan.

Breast cancer check

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian females. However, males can also get breast cancer.  Approximately one in 500 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, which is around 200 Australian men diagnosed every year.

Fortunately, mammograms (a type of X-ray) can detect breast cancers at an early stage - much earlier than you can. This allows for more treatment choices, fewer mastectomies and fewer deaths.

As well as regular mammograms, you should also get familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts and do regular checks; if you find any changes report back to your GP. Here’s a guide to performing a self-examination for breast cancer.

What is a breast cancer check?

A screening mammogram (a type of X-ray) of your breasts

How often should I have this check?

BreastScreen Australia invites people with breasts aged 50 to 74 for a free mammogram every two years.

However if you experience symptoms of breast cancer at any time, speak with your GP as soon as you can.

Who does the check?

A radiographer. Contact BreastScreen Australia to find your nearest location and book a free appointment.

Related: How a breast cancer check can save your life

Cervical cancer screening test

Cervical cancer usually happens when you have a long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). To check for this, there are tests that look for these high-risk types of HPV and for early signs of cervical cancer. The HPV test can find the virus infection before it turns into cancer, and now it's used instead of pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.

What is a cervical cancer screening test?

Your doctor will take a small sample of cells from your cervix and check if you have certain types of HPV that might lead to cervical cancer. If the test shows that you have high-risk types of HPV, they also look at the cervical cells through a microscope to see if there are any changes.

How often should I have a cervical cancer screening test?

If you have a cervix, your first HPV test should be two years after your last pap test, and then every five years after that if the results are normal.

Who does the check?

You can do the test yourself using a high vaginal swab instead of a cervical swab. But if you're experiencing unusual bleeding, it's better to have your doctor take the sample. Your GP or a doctor or nurse at a Family Planning Clinic or Women's Health Centre can still perform the cervical swab test for you.

Related: How the new cervical cancer test can save your life

Self-check of testicles

Testicular cancer is rare, but is more common in men who’ve had an undescended testicle. It has a very good cure rate if caught early.

What is a testicle check?

This is where you roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers, checking for any unusual lumps or thickened areas.

How often should I check my testicles?

It’s an ongoing self-assessment – there is no official guidance on how often to do this check. If you ever notice any changes or find anything unusual, see your doctor.

Who does the check?

You do.

Need some extra support?

At nib, we’re committed to keeping you at your healthiest, which is why we’ve put together a list of tips for keeping healthy over 50.

We also offer a range of Health Management Programs available at no additional cost for eligible members3.

These programs are delivered by qualified health professionals and designed to be tailored to your needs – whether that's to help get you in shape, keep you out of hospital, improve your physical and mental wellbeing or to aid a quicker recovery after you've had surgery.

For more information, check out our Health Management Programs page.

Is it time for a health cover check-up?

Everyone’s health cover needs are different. To help you understand what level of cover is best suited to you, get in touch with our cover experts today to learn more about what people like you are commonly claiming on and what cover would be the best fit.

If you’re not with nib, but you’d like to find out more about our cover options, get a quote today or contact our award-winning member service team on 13 16 42.

Please note: This is not an all-inclusive list; there may be other health checks that are recommended based on your age and individual circumstances. The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. Please make an appointment with your GP to receive advice on the health checks you will need based on your personal circumstances.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at increased risk of many diseases, and so are often recommended to start health checks at an earlier age. You may also be recommended to have the tests or checks more often. Please see your GP for personalised advice.

1 Payment by nib of dental benefits is subject to serving relevant waiting periods, annual limits and service limits. Check your cover by visiting Online Services or call 13 16 42. The dental check-up covers an examination (011, 012), scale and clean (114) or removal of plaque (111), fluoride treatment (121) and bite-wing or periapical x-rays (022, maximum of 2 per year), as deemed necessary and appropriate in the clinical opinion of the dentist (dentures not included). The services provided will be deducted from your annual limits and/or service limits. The 100% back offer is not to be used in conjunction with any other offer or government scheme, nor substitutable or redeemable for cash and is only available with dentists who have a preferred provider agreement with nib. ~nib Dental Care Centres are owned and operated by Pacific Smiles Group Limited ABN 42 103 087 449. The nib Dental Care Centre trademark is owned by nib health funds ABN 83 000 124 381 and is used under license by Pacific Smiles Group Limited.

2 Bulk-billed eye examinations are subject to Medicare eligibility. nib Eye Care Centres are owned and operated by The Optical Company (NSW) Pty Ltd ABN 32 153 741 970. The nib Eye Care Centre trademark is owned by nib health funds ABN 83 000 124 381 and is used under license by The Optical Company.

3 Available to eligible nib members who’ve held Hospital Cover for 12 months and served their relevant waiting periods. Additional criteria vary according to each program.

Fact checked by Dr Hamish Black January 2024.