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How Often Should I get a Physical?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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How often you should get a physical depends very much on your age, your health status, and of course, for many people, on their insurance coverage or ability to pay for one. A strictly medical standpoint may differ from your insurance coverage, which may set allowable time intervals between physicals. Most insurance companies will cover a physical every few years for young adults, and more often as people age. They’ll also usually conform to a person having certain tests and screening as needed or recommended by physicians.

During the first year of life, physicals or check-ups are required often, even for babies that are healthy. Once a child reaches the age of one, and provided the child is healthy, most doctors and pediatricians recommend a child get a physical once a year until age 18. Since children continue to grow and change, the need for health assessments and immunizations and booster shots mean kids should get a check up yearly.

Young women should furthermore have an annual gynecological exam once yearly after they become sexually active, or starting at the age of 21, whichever comes first. Sometimes a general practitioner can provide both a yearly physical and this exam so people don’t have to go to two check-ups in a year. For women and men in their 20s, there are variations on recommendations.

Many doctors recommend you get a physical every three years or so, and others suggest you need two physicals in your 20s. Some doctors advocate that while you don’t need a physical each year, you should still have your blood pressure checked once a year, and possibly have your blood cholesterol levels evaluated every two years. Naturally if you are at risk for medical conditions, and/or have an illness or a family history of early onset illnesses, you may want to get check ups more frequently.

As people reach the ages between 40-65, it may be more important to have a physical every two years, or more often if you are at risk for developing other medical conditions. At 50 men should begin having yearly rectal exams to assess risk for prostate and colorectal cancer. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at the age of 40. People 65 and older should ideally get a physical once yearly to continue to assess for development of diseases and overall health.

Naturally, you may need full check-ups more often if your risks are high for disease development. A person who is morbidly obese might require a physical yearly, and women at risk for early onset breast cancer might begin having mammograms several years before turning 40. You also shouldn’t hesitate to see your doctor in between physicals for anything health-related that worries or concerns you. The sudden appearance of a skin growth or mole for instance, shouldn’t wait a year or two until your physical, but should be analyzed immediately.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Jan 24, 2013

@OeKc05 – Your family is right. You need a checkup so that the doctor can catch any serious conditions before it's too late.

So many people get cancer and don't know it until it is in its later stages. This means that treatment likely won't help, and if only they had gone sooner, they could have survived.

Often, you don't know you have cancer for awhile. Once you start to experience symptoms, it has progressed to a dangerous stage.

Just one checkup a year could save your life. I think it's worth whatever you have to pay.

By SarahGen — On Jan 23, 2013

@alisha-- But didn't you have any symptoms before your routine physical? I'm sure you felt that something was wrong.

If someone is healthy, I think once a year, or once every two years is fine for a physical. And if there is a health condition, physicians will require people to come in anyway.

You said you have a thyroid problem. Your doctor must require you to go in for blood tests once a month or once every three months anyway.

My mom for example, has a cyst in her breast and her doctor requires her to go in for a physical and mammogram every six months. So doctors do direct us in the right direction when there is an issue.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 23, 2013

Should someone who seems to be healthy but is in their thirties really have a physical yearly? It just seems to me that if it isn't broken, there's no need to fix it.

My family is on me about going for a checkup, even though I feel great. They are outraged that I haven't been to a doctor in about ten years, but I see no need to pay someone to tell me that I'm doing just fine, because I already know this!

By cloudel — On Jan 22, 2013

I have a kidney disease, so for awhile, I had to go to the doctor for a physical every six months. This was just to make sure that my kidney function hadn't declined.

With the condition I have, my kidneys could stop functioning normally at any time. My doctor does blood and urine tests to make sure everything is going well. Of course, my diet and lifestyle have a big influence on this, so as long as I do what he tells me, everything seems to go okay.

After a few years of visiting him every six months, he said that I could cut down to once a year. I was obviously in good health and taking care of myself, and he didn't see any need for me to come in that often.

By Perdido — On Jan 22, 2013

I didn't start having regular physicals until I was in my late twenties. Before that, I only went to the doctor when something was wrong.

It had to be something that I just could not bear, too. I hated going to the doctor, and I would often wait weeks or months to see if a problem would go away on its own before I would agree to go.

By discographer — On Jan 21, 2013

I think people should get regular physicals, at least once or twice a year, regardless of age. I'm only 25 but I've been diagnosed with diabetes and hypothyroid. It was diagnosed with blood tests during my annual physical.

By ddljohn — On Jan 21, 2013

@rallenwriter-- Yes, it's to see how the child is developing. But sometimes these physicals can be deceiving. Some kids grow more slowly at first but they catch up later on. Sometimes I feel like these development physicals freak out parents for no reason.

Of course it should be done at least once a year. Because if there is a problem, it can be diagnosed at this time and the necessary treatment can be given. In some cases though, nothing needs to be done and the child will catch up on his own. My younger son was much smaller than kids his age until the third grade. His pediatrician kept telling us that he wasn't growing fast enough and was asking us if we weren't paying enough attention to his diet. But we were!

Then, in third grade, he grew suddenly and became even taller than the other kids.

By gregg1956 — On Sep 02, 2010

I really liked this article. I thought it was great how you mentioned that older people need to get physicals too, because I know I have a tendency to try and skip them.

You know how it goes, you put off having a physical for a month, then that turns into a year, and then the next thing you know it's been five years since you went to the doctor.

Too many adults assume they don't need to go to the doctor unless they feel sick, which is simply not true.

Well done for pointing that out.

By pharmchick78 — On Sep 02, 2010

@rallenwriter -- A child development physical is a check up where the doctor check and tracks a child's growth and his or her body development.

You should take children to have a child development physical about every year or so, so that the doctor can check his or her muscle tone, motor skills development, attention span, and skeletal development, as well as giving them any shots they may need.

Child development physicals are very important for making sure that your child is healthy, and to catch any potential health problems early on, so they have less of a chance of turning into something serious down the road.

By rallenwriter — On Sep 02, 2010

What is a child development physical?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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