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Your 40s can be one of the busiest times of your life. You’re expected to advance your career with the foresight of a 50-year old CEO and meet the demands of your home life with the energy of a 20-year old festival goer; and unfortunately, your health is often the first thing that gets put on the backburner.
But, it’s time to bring your wellbeing back to the top of the priorities list (on par with picking up some bread for lunches and finishing that work report).
Mental and physical fitness helps us stay on top of whatever life throws at us and although it can be hard to devote the time, a little careful planning can really make a big difference to how you feel.
We’ve all heard the mantra, ‘Prevention is always better than cure’, so that’s where health checks come in. Health checks are simple tests or check-ups designed to catch conditions at an early stage when there are no symptoms. In most cases, getting an early diagnosis means a better outcome, because the earlier treatment is started, the better.
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 40s:
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.
A doctor or nurse.
In Australia, we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. While you might not notice too much sun damage in your 40s, it’s a good idea to become familiar with how your skin normally looks and to see a doctor if you notice a new spot or change in a mole. This is especially important if you have a fair complexion, or if you’ve had skin cancers in the past.
A skin check involves a 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. Finding a melanoma early can save your life.
Your GP or a dermatologist (skin specialist).
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 are 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. Find out more about the different ways you can get help for mental health, without paying a thing.
Tests to check your risk of cardiovascular disease (which includes conditions such as heart attack and stroke) should be done from age 35 in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. Other Australians should start having these tests from the age of 45. Your doctor will ask whether you smoke or have diabetes, and recommend several simple tests. Find out about the six modifiable factors you can address to reduce your lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease.
A cardiovascular risk assessment could include a:
It depends on your risk, but at least every two years.
More than 1.2 million Australians over the age of 18 now live with type 2 diabetes – a chronic disease where our body becomes resistant to insulin, or gradually stops producing enough. All people aged 40 and over should be tested to check whether they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
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.
Your GP will ask you a series of questions.
Maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, blood pressure and many different cancers. Checks to make sure you are in a healthy weight range should be started at age 18. 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.
You’d be surprised at how many people put off having an eye test. Once you hit your 40s you are more likely to have problems with your eyes, so stop delaying!
One of the most important tests is to check for glaucoma. This is a condition that causes increased pressure inside the eyes and becomes more of a risk as you get older. You won’t notice any symptoms until your eyesight has been significantly affected, so it’s worth having a simple test to check for it and start treatment if needed. Other conditions, such as long or short-sightedness, can also be picked up during an eye test.
If you have family members with glaucoma, your risk of developing it are increased. Testing should begin 10-15 years earlier than the age your relatives were diagnosed. If you are of African descent you should start having eye tests for glaucoma at age 40.
It’s a full eye examination, including the front and back of your eyes. The pressure inside your eyes is also tested, and your field of vision is checked.
Your doctor or optometrist will let you know how frequently you should be tested, as it depends on your overall risk.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye specialist).
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. So, it might be time to bite the bullet (‘scuse the pun) and book one in.
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.
Kidney disease is known as a silent disease, as there are often no symptoms until it is advanced. That’s why a kidney health check is recommended for people thought to be at increased risk. Ask your doctor if this applies to you.
A kidney health check has three components: a blood pressure check, a urine test and a blood test.
Every 1-2 years.
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.
Formal screening tests are not needed, but you should be aware of how your 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). Current screening methods test for these high-risk types of HPV and for precancerous changes in the cervix.
The HPV test detects infection with the virus before it causes precancerous or cancerous changes in the cervix, and has replaced pap tests for cervical cancer screening.
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.
Women in their 40s who have ever had sex should be having cervical cancer screening tests every five years. Cervical cancer screening testing should start at age 25 or two years after first having sex – whichever occurs first.
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.
Screening mammograms can detect breast cancers before symptoms develop. Australian women aged in their 40s are eligible for free mammogram screening through BreastScreen Australia. You won’t get an invitation to screen (as this starts at age 50), but you can choose to have a free screening mammogram in your 40s.
A mammogram is a special x-ray, which involves having images of your breasts taken from different angles.
There is no standard recommended frequency for women in their 40s. Check with your GP for individual advice.
Bone density tests can detect osteoporosis, a condition where your bones become less dense and prone to fractures. Women in their 40s who have gone through menopause and also have other factors that can increase their risk of osteoporosis may be offered this test. Your GP can refer you for testing.
A DXA scan (dual X-ray absorptiometry, also sometimes called DEXA test), which uses low-dose X-rays to show the density of specific bones (usually the lower spine and the top of the thigh bone).
It depends on the initial test results.
A radiographer (health professional specialising in imaging).
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 40s.
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.
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 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.
2 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.
3Available 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.