5-Minute Health Checks You Can Do at Home

Staying on top of your health goes beyond seeing your doc once a year. In fact, many serious problems — including cancer — are first ID’d at home, not at the doctor’s office. And research shows patients are often the first to notice when something feels “off” in terms of their health.

After all, no matter how skilled your physician is, he or she has no way of knowing whether you typically run hot (or cold) or whether that weird-ish mole has always been that size or color.

So make a standing date with your body, and start doing these simple health checks — some of which take less than a minute.

The Temperature Test

You don’t need to take your temperature every day (unless you’re tracking your ovulation pattern), but it’s a good idea to know your baseline temp when you’re healthy, says Cassandra Arceneaux, MD, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. This way you and your doctor can better recognize when a spike or dip could be a sign of illness.

Although 98.6 degrees is widely considered “normal” body temperature, a healthy temp can actually range from 95 to 101 degrees, depending on the time of day, your age, fitness level, diet, and other variables. Older people tend to have lower body temperature, for example, so even when they’re sick, their temperature may not reach typical feverish levels.

How to Take Your Temperature

“Ear thermometers, across-the-forehead scanners, and digital thermometers used under-the-tongue are the easiest and most reliable,” says Jennifer Draper, MD, an internal medicine physician at UC Davis Medical Center in Davis, Calif. “[Using a rectal thermometer] is very accurate too, but most adults wouldn’t choose that route.” Whichever method you choose, stick with it for consistent results. Take your temperature a few times throughout the day to establish a baseline.

What to look for: Once you know your baseline, use it as a guide to what’s normal or not for you, and talk to your doctor if your temperature seems unusually high or low. High temperatures indicate your body is battling infection; lower-than-usual temps could be due to health issues like diabetes, hypothyroidism, or liver disease.

The Pulse Test

Checking your pulse — which measures how many times your heart beats in one minute — isn’t just for assessing how hard you’re working during exercise. In fact, your resting heart rate provides important insight into overall heart health. Research has found that women with higher resting heart rates have a greater heart attack risk than those with lower resting pulses. A rapid resting heart rate could also identify a heart condition, particularly if you’re having heart palpitations, or you feel like your heart is beating fast or skipping beats, says Dr. Draper.

How to Check Your Pulse

The easiest way is to place your middle and index finger on your neck, just next to your Adam’s apple. Then follow the second hand on your watch and count your pulse for 30 seconds. Multiply that number by two to get your heart rate.

What to look for: A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A low pulse usually means you’re physically fit. A marathoner, for example, might have a pulse in the 50s. During aerobic exercise, your target pulse is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) — or about 120 to 150 beats per minute for a 45-year old woman.

You should see a doctor if your resting pulse is over 100 or below 60 (assuming you’re not a well-trained athlete), or if your heart seems to be skipping beats or not keeping a regular rhythm.

The Waist Test

Your waist circumference is a good indication of your future risk for many health conditions: the thicker the waist, the higher your risk — even if your weight is healthy. In fact, an Archives of Internal Medicine study found that people with high waist circumferences had double the mortality risk of those with lower measurements, regardless of weight or BMI. A large waist circumference means more belly fat, which is linked to higher levels of inflammatory chemicals associated with heart disease and diabetes.