Health checks that could save your life

27 November 2023

The older we get, the more we may start to worry about our health. So as well as staying fit and active, it’s also important that we look after ourselves by attending the routine health screenings available for over 50s. Getting NHS health checks and other tests regularly can help give you peace of mind, as if there are any problems, your doctor will have the opportunity to spot them while they’re in the early stages and may be easier to treat.

Below you’ll find some of the over 50s health checks available in the UK.

Health checks that could save your life

NHS health check

GP and senior woman at surgery talking

In England, if you’re aged between 40 and 74, you can get a free health check on the NHS. These health checks are usually carried out at your GP surgery, a local pharmacy and even in some leisure centres.

Why is it important?

The NHS health check is designed to spot any early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or dementia. Think of it as an MOT for your health – as we get older, we all have a higher risk of developing one of these conditions, so an NHS health check helps find ways to lower these risks.

A review by the Queen Mary University of London stated that up to 8,400 heart attacks and strokes were avoided because people had gone for their health check.


How is the test done?

Your NHS check will always be done by a healthcare professional, whether that be a nurse, doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare assistant. 

The check takes around 20-30 minutes and you’ll be asked some simple questions including, whether any of your close relatives have had the illnesses being checked for, if and how much you smoke, how much alcohol you drink and how much physical exercise you do.

Your height and weight will also be measured, and your age, gender and ethnicity will be recorded. A blood text will be performed and your blood pressure will be taken using a cuff fitted over your upper arm.

When should I get it?

You should automatically receive a letter from your GP surgery inviting you for a free NHS health check every five years if you're between the ages of 40 and 74. If you're not registered with a GP surgery, your local authority will send you a letter explaining where you have to go for your NHS health check.

Find out more about the NHS Health Check

Blood pressure test

The term 'blood pressure' is used to describe the strength with which your blood pushes on the sides of your arteries as it's pumped around your body. A blood pressure test is a very quick and easy way of checking if your blood pressure is too high or too low. Around one in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure.

Why is it important?

High blood pressure (hypertension) may put strain on your arteries and organs, which can increase your risk of developing serious problems, such as heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, low blood pressure (hypotension), causes dizziness and fainting in some people.

How is the test done?

Your healthcare professional will use a device to measure your blood pressure. This usually consists of a stethoscope, arm cuff, pump, and dial – although automatic devices that use sensors are becoming more and more common nowadays.

During the test, you hold one of your arms out so it’s the same level as your heart. The cuff is then placed around it and pumped up to restrict the blood flow in your arm. This squeezing may feel a bit uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few seconds. The pressure in the cuff is then slowly released while the stethoscope or digital sensors listen to your pulse. The pressure in the cuff is recorded at two points as the blood flow starts to return to your arm and it’s these measurements that give your blood pressure reading

When should I get it done?

Your doctor will typically recommend you get a blood test every five years if you are over 40 so any potential problems can be detected early. This can be done at your local GP surgery, at some pharmacies, or with a home blood pressure testing kit.

Find out more about blood pressure tests

Bowel cancer screening

NHS bowel cancer screening is a test you do at home that checks for signs that you may have bowel cancer.

Why is it important?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common kind of cancer, but screening can help find it early when it is easier to treat. In fact, bowel cancer screening saves around 2,400 lives per year.


How is the test done?

You can take the test in the comfort of your own home, using an at home test kit called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which collects a small amount faeces you send to a lab. This is then checked for tiny amounts of blood, which can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel, which are not cancer, but may turn into it over time.

If a test does find some blood in your stool, that doesn't necessarily mean you have bowel cancer - the blood could be from something like piles, for example. But of course, it's important to figure out the cause of the bleeding to be on the safe side.

When should I get it done?

Everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland aged between 60 and 74 (and soon to be 56 and over in England), who are registered to a GP will be automatically sent a bowel cancer screening kit every two years. If you live in Scotland, you will be sent a bowel cancer screening kit every two years if you are aged between 50 and 74.

Find out more about bowel cancer screening

Cervical cancer screening

A cervical screening, also known as a smear test, checks the health of your cervix. It is not a test for cancer, but rather a test to help prevent it.

Why is it important?

Cervical cancer is often thought of as something that mostly affects young women, but around 5000 lives of women of all ages are saved each year thanks to these quick tests.


How is the test done?

During the appointment you will be asked to lie on a bed where a small number of cells will be taken from your cervix. It can be a little uncomfortable but will only last a few minutes.

The sample is then checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause changes to your cervix. If they are found, they can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer.

When should I get it done?

When it comes to how often you should get a smear test, if you’re aged from 50 to 64 years old you will be invited every 5 years (it’s every 3 years for 25 to 49 year olds). If you’re 65 or older, you’ll only be invited in if screening results were abnormal.

Find out more about cervical screening

Breast cancer screening

This type of health check that aims to find breast cancers early, although there are some risks of breast cancer screening you should be aware of. 

Why is it important?

About 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, but if it’s detected early, treatment and recovery is more successful. In fact, about 1300 lives are saved thanks to breast cancer screenings every year.

How is the test done?

A breast screening test is done using an x-ray known as a mammogram, at a special clinic or mobile screening unit. This is done by a female health practitioner called a mammographer. She will usually take two x-rays of each breast, one from above and one below. It may not be the most comfortable procedure, but any discomfort will be over quickly and will only last a few minutes.

When should I get it done?

So, how often should you get a mammogram after 50? All women in the UK aged from 50 to 70, who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for a breast cancer screening every three years.

Find out more about breast cancer screening

Cholesterol test

High cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. It’s mainly caused by eating unhealthy foods, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol. But it can also run in families.

Why is it important?

Too much cholesterol can block your blood vessels, which makes you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke, so it's best to keep on top of it. Around 39.65% of people have high cholesterol levels in the UK. As high cholesterol does not exhibit any symptoms, the only way to find out if you have it is to take a blood test.

How is the test done?

There are two ways to have a cholesterol test, the first is by taking some blood from your arm and the second is via a finger-prick test. If you're over 40, you may have one during your NHS health check in England, or you may be able to ask your GP for one if you live in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

When should I get it done?

Most healthy adults should have a cholesterol check every four to six years.

Find out more about cholesterol tests

Dementia awareness

There are many different causes of dementia and many varying kinds, but in a nutshell, it’s a syndrome that causes an ongoing decline of brain function.

Why is it important?

Research from the Alzheimer’s Society shows that around 900,000 people in the UK have dementia, with the condition affecting 1 in 11 people over 65. Although there is no cure for dementia at the moment, getting diagnosed early means that in some cases, the progress can be slowed. A diagnosis also means dementia patients can start receiving the right treatment and support for the future, allowing many people to lead active and fulfilling lives.

What should I look out for?

Dementia is not only about memory loss. It can also affect the way you speak, think, and feel. Symptoms may include problems with:

  • Memory loss
  • Thinking speed
  • Mental sharpness and quickness
  • Using incorrect language
  • Understanding
  • Judgement
  • Mood
  • Movement
  • Difficulties doing daily activities

When should I start checking?

If you’re over the age of 65, the NHS advise you to look out for any signs of dementia. Memory loss can happen to us all, especially as we get older. But if it’s affecting you, or someone you know during daily life, it’s always best to make an appointment with your GP.

Find out more about dementia awareness

Protect the things that matter

It’s true, you can’t put a price on your health, but you should always be prepared in case the unexpected happens. By making sure you have over 50 life insurance, you're helping your loved ones by leaving some money behind when they need it most 

Grandmother, mother and daughters walking on beach

Find out more about Over 50 Life Insurance