We know that if we want to maintain our health, prevention and early detection of diseases or disorders is key. Still, seeing a physician regularly can be expensive and logistically challenging—and a lot of people simply don’t do it. While the home test kit universe is exploding (you can test everything from your cholesterol to your colon health from the comfort of your home these days), it’s still in the early stages. Many of these tests are both expensive and much less reliable than the tests performed by medical professionals. But there are ways you can effectively monitor your health at home without seeing a doctor or spending money on an at-home testing kit.
One of the most powerful advantages of a DIY home health test is that you can do them at any time, at an extremely low cost, and yet the results can still tell you a lot about your current state of health. While many self-exams have been deprecated in recent years because of difficulty in interpreting results (doctors no longer advise breast self-exams, for example, because they don’t actually help detect cancer sooner), there are a few DIY home health tests that are actually worth doing.
How to do a skin cancer check
You can monitor the health of your skin at home with a reasonable level of effectiveness. One reason checking yourself for potential skin cancer is more effective than a breast or testicular exam is the visual nature of it: If you perform the check regularly, you will be able to notice changes in moles and spots on your skin that can indicate a problem. A monthly exam is a good idea—look for moles that have changed size, shape, or color, or ones that have scabs or bleed when touched. And in general, look for any changes in your skin at all.
Note that these self-exams should be done in conjunction with an annual visit to a dermatologist. But this at-home exam can help ensure that you don’t waste precious time if you develop a problematic mole.
How to check your own blood pressure
With the purchase of an affordable, low-tech blood pressure cuff, you can easily check your blood pressure at home on a regular basis. Generally speaking, your blood pressure should be at or under 120/80; high blood pressure is considered to be any reading where the systolic pressure (the first number) is higher than 130 and the diastolic (the second number) is higher than 80. If you regularly get readings in the elevated or high range, get checked out by a doctor and look into lifestyle changes like a better diet and more exercise.
Try the “sit-to-stand” test
A simple, no-tech way to gauge your overall health is the sit-to-stand test. Sit in a straight-back chair, and put your hands on opposite shoulders and your feet flat on the floor. Set a timer, and without using your arms, stand up, then sit down again. Repeat as many times as you can in 30 seconds. The results vary by age, but generally speaking, you should be able to get close to 20 times if you’re relatively fit and under the age of 60. As we get older, this number goes down, but even in our 90s we should be able to hit 11-12 on this test. Failing to get close to these numbers should prompt you to see your doctor for a more thorough investigation.
How to check your heart rate
An easy and obvious test you can perform literally anywhere and at any time is to check your heart rate. First, determine your resting heart rate: While relaxed and calm, find your pulse and count how often your heart beats in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get your resting heart rate. Normal heart rates range quite a bit—anywhere from 60 to 100 is considered relatively normal, though a lower heart rate is usually better for your overall health. If your resting heart rate is over 80, it’s worth thinking about getting a check-up.
You can also check your heart health via your recovery time. Perform some exercise that gets your heart rate elevated. When you stop, immediately check your heart rate, then wait one minute and check again. Your heart rate should have gone down around 20 beats per minute (it doesn’t have to be that exact). If your heart is still pounding way, that indicates a problem that should be checked out.
Try the stairs challenge
You probably have in your home a very useful testing device for your overall respiratory and cardiovascular health: stairs. Studies have shown that if you can’t climb about four flights of stairs in under a minute without getting dizzy, out of breath, or experiencing chest pains, you might need to go in for a formal stress test to determine your heart and lung health. To really test yourself, try walking up those stairs while talking to yourself continuously—if you’re unable to do so, that indicates you might not be as healthy as you think you are.
How to test your balance
Balance is a great gauge of our overall health. If nothing else, your ability to balance indicates how prone you might be to falls or other accidents, but studies have also shown that balance is a great indicator of your brain health. Simply put, you should be able to stand on one leg without difficulty for a minimum of 20 seconds. Depending on your age, you should easily hit the 30 or 40 second mark before you start to wobble.
You can easily perform a four-stage balance test at home whenever you have 5 minutes to spare. The longer you can hold each position without difficulty, the better. If you struggle to hit 20 seconds, you should consider consulting your physician about further testing.
These simple, DIY tests can help you assess your current state of health—but it’s important to note that nothing can wholly replace a physical examination conducted by a medical professional. In other words, use these at-home tests to monitor your overall health, but don’t skip the annual physical.