Why is an Annual Physical Important?

Did you get a reminder that it’s time to schedule your annual physical, again? We know you are busy and may be tempted to just throw it out and worry about it later, but this would be doing your health a big disservice. Annual physicals allow for early detection and treatment if there is something wrong, and peace of mind if everything’s A-OK.

What Happens at An Annual Physical?

The physical will begin with your physician or PA having a conversation to discuss your lifestyle including your diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use and sexual health. You will have the opportunity to update your family history and ensure your vaccines are up to date.


The physician will then check your vital signs. These include:

  • Blood pressure
    • Blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats over the pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats.
  • Heart rate
    • The heart rate is the number of time the heart beats per minute.
  • Respiration rate
    • The respiration rate is the number of breaths taken per minute.
  • Temperature
    • A part of the brain called the hypothalamus controls temperature and it fluctuates throughout a regular day.

The physician will be looking for blood pressure that is less than 120 over 80. A normal heart rate is considered to be between 60 and 100 and 12 to 16 breaths per minute is considered a normal respiration rate. While the average temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, healthy people can have a temperature slightly higher or lower.

Physical Appearance

During the physical exam, the physician will watch you and make note of whether you have a healthy skin tone, have trouble standing or sitting, or difficulty breathing.

Head and Neck

Say “Ah!” You physician will also do a head and neck exam in which he or she will examine the health of your tonsils, tongue, and teeth. They may also check the ears, nose, sinuses, eyes, lymph nodes, thyroid, and carotid arteries.

Abdominal Exam

To check your internal organs, your physician may tap your abdomen to detect liver size and presence of abdominal fluid, listen for bowel sounds with a stethoscope, or feel for tenderness.

Gender Specific Exams

During the physical exam, your physician may also perform a few tests depending on your gender. In addition to looking for signs of sexually transmitted diseases, a physician will also check a male’s testicles for growths or lumps that could be a sign of cancer. For females, your physician may perform a breast exam in which they feel for abnormal lumps, which could be cancerous or benign.

Tips For An Effective Annual Physical

To make the process as seamless as possible for you and your physician, it’s important to come prepared. Consider these tips before your appointment:

  • Arrive on time (or early)
  • Have the names and doses of medications you take
  • Know your family’s history
  • Bring your most current vaccine record (if it’s not already on file)
  • Know the dates of your most recent cancer screenings
  • Always be honest. Your doctor is better prepared to help you when he or she has more information about your lifestyle. Let them know if you drink or smoke, even if only on occasion.

When to Get Screened for Other Issues

Aside from the annual physical, you should also get regular check ups including cancer screenings depending on your age and family history.

  • Starting at age 50, everyone should have a screening for colorectal cancer by getting a colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • When a woman turns 40, she should have a regular mammogram every year.
  • Women should have an osteoporosis tests or bone density test starting at age 65.
  • Women who are sexually active or over the age of 21 should have a Pap Smear every one to three years.
  • Starting at age 50 men should begin getting an annual prostate exam. African American men should start being tested at age 40.