5 Questions to Ask at Your Next Physical

The right question can reveal a lot about your health.

Your annual checkup is more important than you may think. Though acute concerns or ailments could send you to the doctor at other points throughout the year, your routine physical exam is more like an overview of your body and overall health.

“An annual exam is a preventive visit,” explains Jennifer R. Boozer, DO, a family medicine physician at Keck Medicine of USC and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “We want to focus on keeping healthy.”

And it’s dedicated time for you to have a one-on-one discussion with your doctor. Make the most of it by coming prepared with these 5 questions, which will give you insight into your health.

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1. Are there any immunizations I need?

Though the topic of vaccinations is often focused on children, their value doesn’t wane after high school. “Shots aren’t just for kids,” Boozer says. “There are several adult vaccines that are quite important.”

The flu vaccine, Tdap vaccine (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough) and tetanus booster shots are essential in adulthood, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Once you hit 50, the shingles vaccine may also spare you a lot of discomfort, as shingles affects nearly 1 in 3 adults. Pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for people 65 and older.

2. What is my BMI, or body mass index?

Though it’s not a perfect measurement, your BMI gives you a better assessment of your weight — and the associated risks — than the scale alone. “Knowing your BMI is important to make sure you’re staying on track with a healthy weight,” Boozer says.

A normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is classified as overweight, and a BMI of 30.0 and higher is classified as obese. Your BMI serves as a guidepost for changes you should make in your diet and exercise routine.

3. What is my blood pressure?

Ask your doctor about your blood pressure reading and make a note of it. Hypertension makes your heart pump harder and can raise your risk for serious conditions, like heart disease and stroke.

“Prehypertension [the gradual increasing of blood pressure] can be addressed through lifestyle changes,” Boozer explains. Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, limiting your sodium intake, maintaining a healthy weight and cutting back on your alcohol intake can help.

4. What kinds of screenings should I get — and how often?

Certain screenings, like for breast cancer and colon cancer, can vary according to your age, gender and family history. Not only is asking your physician about upcoming screenings important, but knowing your risk factors (and sharing them accordingly) is also key.

“Family history is very important to consider, so make sure your physician is aware of yours,” Boozer says.

5. What are some healthy habits I can try?

Even if you’re the picture of health, it’s important to maintain it — so take this opportunity to discuss potential changes you can make to ensure you stay healthy. “This is a perfect time to talk about options for quitting smoking, discussing alcohol use or setting goals for exercise and weight loss,” Boozer says.

by Deanna Pai

Are you due for a physical? Our family medicine specialists can help. If you’re in Southern California, make an appointment or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).