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Whether you’re working, studying, smack bang in the middle of a quarter-life crisis or starting a family, no other time in your life is going to quite compare to your 20s. Of all the things you have to worry about, your health might not be high on the list.
The truth is, the best investment you can make in your 20s is in yourself, because the health foundation you build during this decade will help shape the rest of your life.
Whether it’s cooking healthy meals from scratch, trying a new class at the gym or chatting through problems with a psychologist, the sooner you start prioritising your physical and mental wellbeing, the better.
And, having a few quick health checks is so important, even if you feel perfectly fine. The following health checks and simple tests are designed to catch conditions at an early stage, particularly if you’re not experiencing any symptoms. An early diagnosis will give you the best chance of tackling any issues before they develop into anything more serious, giving yourself the best chance of a long, happy and healthy life.
Your GP should be the first port of call to find out which health checks are a good idea for your age and stage of life. But, as a general overview, here are the health checks that are important for people in their 20s:
A blood pressure check only takes a few minutes and is often done when you see your doctor for other reasons. Your GP will want to regularly check your blood pressure from the age of 18. That’s because you can have high blood pressure and not know it, and untreated high blood pressure can cause many other health concerns. It’s a simple check that only takes a couple of minutes.
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.
At least every two years, starting from age 18.
A doctor or nurse.
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.
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.
At least once a year, but ideally every six months.
In Australia, it’s estimated 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with three million Aussies currently living with depression or anxiety. 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.
A mental health check is designed to determine whether you're experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
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.
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.
Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. Tests to check whether you're at risk of developing type 2 diabetes should be started in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the age of 18 years and at age 40 for other Australians.
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.
Every three years for most people.
Your GP will ask you a series of questions.
Sexually transmitted infections (also known as STIs) mostly affect young people. For that reason, screening for STIs such as chlamydia – which often has no symptoms – is recommended for sexually active people in their 20s.
A risk assessment where your GP will ask you questions about your sexual activity. You might be examined, and a sample of urine, a swab from your genitals and/or a blood test may be taken for testing in a laboratory.
It depends on your level of risk, which is based on your age and sexual practices. It’s best to confirm how often you should be tested with a health professional.
Living in Australia, chances are that you’ll develop at least some degree of sun-related skin damage during your life. There are some big sun safety myths we need to stop believing, and while most of us don’t get skin cancers in our 20s, it is possible. It’s important to be aware of how your skin normally looks and see your doctor if you notice a new spot or change in a mole.
Your risk of melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) is higher if you have fair skin and had episodes of sunburn growing up.
A skin check involves your doctor checking over your entire body for skin cancers or suspicious lesions.
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.
Your GP or a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Related: 7 common sunscreen mistakes
Checks to make sure you are in a healthy weight range are recommended for all Australians. This check should be done at least once every two years when you’re in your 20s. Maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, blood pressure and many different cancers. There are a number of things you can start to do today to reduce your risk of obesity and associated chronic disease.
Your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference will be measured by your doctor.
Every 1-2 years, depending on your risk.
Related: Weight loss: Fact and fiction
Men in their 20s are pretty low-maintenance when it comes to gender-specific health checks, but testicular cancer is highly treatable if you catch it early
Formal screening tests are not needed, but you should be aware of how their testicles normally feel. If any lumps, changes or symptoms develop, you should see your doctor.
Being familiar with the usual feel of your testicles.
It’s an ongoing self-assessment.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a persistent infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). In Australia, HPV tests have replaced pap smear tests as the screening test for cervical cancer. The new test can detect evidence of infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) before they cause cell changes that can eventually lead to the development of cervical cancer.
A sample of cells is collected from your cervix and tested for infection with types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. If the test is positive for high-risk types of HPV, the cervical cells are also examined for changes under a microscope.
HPV testing should start at age 25, or two years after first having sex – whichever is first. You should get tested every five years unless your doctor advises you to have more frequent testing.
A GP or a Family Planning Clinic or Women’s Health Centre doctor or trained nurse.
Women of all ages should be breast aware, which means being familiar with the look and feel of your breasts and seeing your doctor if you notice any changes. Being breast aware may improve your chances of detecting breast lumps and other breast changes earlier.
Here’s a guide to performing a self-examination for breast cancer.
Being familiar with the usual look and feel of your breasts.
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 in your 20s.
We also offer a range of Health Management Programs available at no additional cost for eligible members2.
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.
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 is it substitutable or redeemable for cash. It 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 licence by Pacific Smiles Group Limited.
2 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.