You’ve seen the signage around the office and you’ve heard the not-so-subtle hints: “Be sure to get your annual physical!” Maybe your company even requires it. Or maybe it’s your yearly opportunity to prove to your spouse that you’re still as fit as you were at 18.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of unsettling news, but here’s the truth: most of what you know about the annual physical is wrong.

Those Hollywood depictions of treadmill tests and hammer-to-knee reflex exams? They’re of no value for most people. The manual rectal exam so many men fear? Probably not your problem. And the ears/eyes/throat checks you think signify a clean bill of health? Those aren’t as important as you think.

The truth is, there are a few key parts of your physical that really matter. As a family nurse practitioner with over 25 years of experience, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about the physical and I’ve seen experts in the field battle it out over which numbers, tests, and measurements truly matter.

Confused? So are most people–and that includes a lot of primary care physicians. According to a 2002 study, 66 percent of patients polled believed that in addition to regular care, an annual physical exam is necessary and more than 90 percent felt that the heart, lungs, abdomen, reflexes, and prostate should be examined during this yearly appointment. In 2005, the same group of researchers found that most providers still believe that an annual physical is an important way to detect illness, despite recommendations that the annual physical isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But the physical does matter in ways you may not expect and knowing what to ask and what’s important can make a big difference in your health.

Categories: general