Home health checks, and how to make them part of your routine

9th December, 2022 • 8 min read

From heart health checks to breast exams, there are lots of quick and easy tests it’s worth fitting into your everyday routine.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s just how precious health is. But when life gets in the way, it can be tricky to give it the care and attention it deserves. For example, almost half of women say they don’t check their breasts regularly, simply because they “forget”.

But we owe it to ourselves to find a few moments of peace and quiet (and privacy) to fit in some at-home health checks. Think of it a bit like putting on your oxygen mask first in an emergency, before helping others. You’ll be much more useful if you can breathe, right?

What are home health checks?

From heart health checks to breast exams, there are lots of quick and easy tests it’s worth fitting into your everyday routine. Checking that things are working as they should involves looking out for new lumps and bumps, and monitoring things such as moles and vaginal discharge for changes.

These checks could even be life-saving. Cancer charity Cancer Research UK says that “breast cancers found early need less treatment and have more chance of being cured.” And there are studies to prove how early diagnosis increases survival chances for most cancers.

“Anything we can do at home to catch something at the early stages – or give ourselves peace of mind that all’s well – is worth doing,” says Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert. “These home tests are pretty quick to do, too. Give them a try and you’ll get to know what’s normal for you, which can be hugely beneficial. But if you have symptoms you’re unsure about or worried about, see a doctor – regardless of a home test.”

So have these health checks on your radar, and use them to reassure you – or empower you in what you choose to do next. That could be seeing a pharmacist for something treatable at home, or seeing a doctor for further treatment. Either way, you’ll feel better for checking yourself.

What health checks can you do at home?

From checks you’ve probably heard of, such as checking your breasts or his genitals for lumps, to lesser-known hand grip and balance tests, here are the home health checks you can do yourself. Find out how to do them – and why.

Women’s health checks

Although many health checks are for both men and women, some are just for women, such as:

  • keeping an eye on your
    vaginal discharge
    – find out what’s normal and what’s not, and when to see a doctor about yours if it’s worrying you
  • doing a
    vaginal self-exam
    – don’t know your vagina from your vulva? You will do after reading our guide
  • checking your breasts – read about how to do a self-exam, plus the
    symptoms of breast cancer
    to look out for
  • looking after your pelvic floor – the importance of doing those Kegel exercises to maintain a healthy bladder

Men’s health checks

Your partner should be keeping an eye on his health, too, so suggest that he reads:

Heart health checks

We all know how important eating well and working out are to stay heart healthy – but it can also help to keep an eye on some key measurements.

Knowing how to check the following at home is a simple way to help monitor your heart health:

  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • waist size

Strength, flexibility and balance checks

You may have heard of the health checks mentioned so far – maybe you’re doing some of them already, or this has given you the reminder you need to do them regularly.

These next ones aren’t quite so well-known. They focus on strength, flexibility and balance – which, according to research, can reveal a lot about your future health and life expectancy. Why not give them a try?

  • 10 second balance test – being unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in mid-to-later life could be an indicator of your risk of death within the next decade
  • hand grip test – find out why struggling to open a pickle jar could indicate an underlying health issue. Plus, how to strengthen your grip at home
  • toe touch test
    – try this simple way to measure and increase flexibility
  • at home eye tests
    – everything you need to know about looking after your eye health and checking your vision when you can’t get to see an eye care specialist

Know your body’s signs

Recognising changes or unusual signs or symptoms can reveal a lot about your health. So get to know your body and its messages by learning how to check your:

  • moles
    – a regular mole check can help you spot the signs of skin cancer early
  • pee
    – what’s a normal urine color? Find out here
  • poo
    – what’s a normal stool color? Should you worry about a light colored stool?
  • lymph nodes
    – learn how to check your swollen lymph nodes

Health checks: why you shouldn’t worry

Think of home health checks like taking your car in for a service (except you’re much more precious). But seriously – it’s always in the diary, and even if there’s a problem, there's usually an opportunity for repair.

Staying on top of your health so you can spot anything unusual and act on it should help give you peace of mind, rather than making you worry. And remember, the odds are often in your favor.

For example, if you’ve found a breast lump and convinced yourself it’s cancer, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) says, “Breast lumps are common, and not always associated with breast cancer… More women have benign (non-cancerous) breast problems than cancer.” Breast Cancer UK agrees, saying that “9 out of 10 breast lumps are completely harmless.”

Of course, you should still get whatever you find checked out – but it’s reassuring to know.

How to build health checks into your routine

So, you’ve realized the importance of checking yourself at home. Now you just need to fit it into your daily life.

The aim is to do it regularly enough to be useful, without becoming a chore (which you’re likely to ditch at the first opportunity).

A bit like exercise, it needs to be done whenever it works best for you – maybe first of the month, so it’s ticked off? Or perhaps self-care Sundays are good for you?

Here are some tips to help make health checks second nature:

  • set a reminder on your phone, or use sticky notes on your bathroom mirror
  • add trackers on your phone to keep a record of your results, or use the Notes app
  • sign up for expert reminders – in the US, the
    Keep A Breast App
    allows you to schedule monthly reminders to check your breasts, while UK charities
    CoppaFeel
    and
    Breast Cancer UK
    can send text and email reminders
  • multi-task – make health checks part of your day-to-day and you’ll be more likely to do them regularly. For example, try checking your breasts while in the shower, balancing on one leg while you’re making a cup of tea, or checking your moles when trying on clothes before you go on holiday
  • check your vaginal discharge whenever you go to the bathroom (you may need to wear white or pale knickers for this)
  • tone while you talk – making an evening call? Use the time while you’re talking to work on your grip strength, for example

When to see a doctor

If you spot something new, unusual or unexplained while doing these tests, or you’d like to find out whether you should see a doctor, you can try our

Smart Symptom Checker
to help you work out your next best step.

Designed by doctors, it’s free, safe and 100% anonymous. Just put in your year of birth and symptoms, and you’ll be shown helpful and relevant information about what it could be – and whether to see a doctor.

But remember: always see a doctor if you have any concerns about your health and wellbeing.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.