Health

Vital health checks for Australians aged 50 to 60 - a Citro guide

A healthy life is probably better than a long life

Did you know that chronic disease - especially diabetes and cardiovascular conditions - is responsible for 83% of all premature deaths in Australia?

Most of us want a long and healthy life where we maintain our independence, mobility and self-determination. An ageing population challenges our publicly funded health and social welfare systems.

Finding a bulk-billing doctor and the recommended health checks you can do to prevent chronic conditions isn’t easy - so Citro did something about it. We put our best writers on the case to find out which health checks, vaccinations and screenings you can do for free, or at a low cost, to prevent chronic disease robbing you of precious healthy years.  

We also produce quality, evidence-based content on the lifestyle swaps you can make to improve your longevity and explain the important health benefits of basic interventions like strength training

Today, every country in the world is experiencing an explosion in the proportion of older people and treating the common conditions and diseases of ageing, like dementia

By 2030, 1 in 6 people across the globe will be aged older than 60 and living better, healthier and more active lives than people did one hundred or more years ago thanks to the simple health checks, screenings and lifestyle swaps that are widely available. So read on to make your best years better by avoiding chronic disease.

Download our printable checklist and make an appointment at your nearest GP (who hopefully bulk bills through Medicare!). Some private health insurers also offer free checks and screenings at their clinics - check with yours.

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

Blood pressure check

You might feel like spending time with your mother-in-law makes your blood pressure spike.  But high blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, so it’s important to have it checked regularly. 

  • What it is: Your GP can test your blood pressure during a routine visit using a blood pressure monitor and cuff.
  • Who needs it: Everyone aged 18 and over.
  • How often: At least every 2 years. If you’ve had high blood pressure readings in the past or you have a family history of heart attack or stroke, your doctor may want to check your blood pressure more often.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other conditions if it’s left unmanaged.
  • Hassle rating: 1/10 

Tip: Many large pharmacies offer free blood pressure checks if you can’t get to the GP.

Read more about the DASH diet and rethinking just one drink if you have high blood pressure.

Download the quick checklist before your next doctor's appointment

Download our easy printable checklist

Cholesterol check

Cholesterol isn’t evil - in fact, we need some of it to produce hormones and vitamin D. But levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol can creep up as the years tick by, so regular checks are necessary.

  • What it is: A cholesterol check is a simple blood test. You may need to fast overnight before having it, but this isn’t always necessary. Your GP will let you know.
  • Who needs it: People aged 45 and over, or 35 and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 
  • How often: Every 5 years. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, you may need to get tested more often.

  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • Hassle rating: 3/10 

Tip: Various factors affect blood cholesterol levels including your diet and lifestyle, body weight and genes. An imbalance between different types of cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of heart disease, one of the leading chronic diseases in Australia today. About ¾ of the cholesterol in your body is made in the liver and a small amount may come from the food you eat. 

Healthy weight check

It’s no secret that being overweight or having too much belly fat increases your risk of several health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. Your GP can help you monitor your weight and suggest an action plan to reduce your risk.

  • What it is: During a healthy weight check, your GP will measure your weight and height, which are used to determine your body mass index (BMI). Because BMI doesn’t provide a complete picture of your health, your doctor may also measure your waist circumference to determine your amount of visceral (belly) fat.
  • Who needs it: People aged 18 and over.
  • How often: Every 2 years if you’re at average risk of overweight or obesity or every year if you’re at higher risk.

  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: It’s never too late to add years to your life.
  • Hassle rating: 1/10 (but up to 8/10 for the emotional toll it may take)

Tip: The Eat For Health website offers a range of weight guidelines and recommendations on how to reduce weight and improve health outcomes (without starving!). You can also do the CSIRO’s healthy diet quiz to see how your eating habits compare to the rest of the nation.

Read more about the health dangers of belly fat and how new treatments like Ozempic and GLP-1s are changing the way we look at weight.

Heart health check

With 1.4 million Australians at risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years, it’s worth booking a complete heart health check to make sure your ticker is in tip-top shape. If necessary, your GP can help you make positive lifestyle changes to improve your heart health.

  • What it is: During your 20-minute heart health check, your GP will ask you about your family health history and any lifestyle factors (such as smoking) that could put you at risk of heart disease. They’ll also check your blood pressure and cholesterol, and they might perform other tests.
  • Who needs it: Everyone in their 50s.
  • How often: Every 2 years if you’re at low risk of heart disease or more often if you’re at medium to high risk. Your GP will let you know.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: You’ll need a healthy heart to enjoy your retirement. And here’s an extra tip: Covid-19 may worsen existing heart conditions so Healthdirect recommends Covid-19 vaccination, too.
  • Hassle rating: 6/10

Tip: People over 45 should be having heart health checks because the early stages of heart disease show no symptoms. The term “heart disease” refers to a group of conditions which have a range of risk factors, some of which can be controlled with a healthy lifestyle and others that you can’t control at all.

Diabetes check

Type 2 diabetes is the type you aren’t born with and is often caused by being overweight, a lack of exercise and a poor diet. It happens when the body stops producing enough insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar, and levels of sugar in the blood are too high.

  • What it is: To figure out whether you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5 years, fill out the Australian type 2 diabetes risk assessment tool (AUSDRISK) on your own or with the help of your GP. If you get a high score, your doctor will test your blood sugar levels (but this test is only free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Isalnder people under 55).
  • Who needs it: Everyone in their 50s should take the AUSDRISK questionnaire and get tested if their score is high.
  • How often: Every 1 to 3 years depending on your risk factors. You can fill out the AUSDRISK online in a matter of minutes as often as you like.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Appropriately treating type 2 diabetes can prevent long-term complications including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and eye, foot and nerve problems.
  • Hassle rating: 1/10 for the AUSDRISK and 5/10 for the blood test.

Tip: Over time, Type 2 diabetes causes serious damage to nerves and blood vessels. It’s worth intervening and treating to extend health span.  

Eye check

Have you been borrowing your partner’s reading glasses when they aren’t looking? Time to get those eyes tested! Your risk of eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract and glaucoma increases in your 50s, so you should have regular eye checks with an optometrist.

  • What it is: Your optometrist will start by asking you about your health and family history. Then, they’ll measure how well you can see at different distances, how well you see colour, how your eyes react to light and movement, and the pressure inside your eyes.
  • Who needs it: Everyone over 40 should have regular eye tests. 
  • How often: Every 3 years or more often if you have risk factors including a family history of eye disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Medicare will cover 1 eye test every 3 years if you’re under 65.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Eye diseases can lead to blindness if left untreated.
  • Hassle rating: 4/10

Tip: It is estimated that over 13 million Australians have one or more chronic eye conditions, ranging from long sightedness to presbyopia and macular degeneration.

Skin check

When it comes to the harmful effects of the sun, many Aussies have a “she’ll be right” attitude. But the truth is Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with 2 in 3 Aussies diagnosed by age 70. 

  • What it is:  Your doctor will ask you questions to determine your risk of skin cancer and examine your skin with a handheld magnifying instrument. If they find a spot that looks suspicious, they may remove it or take a biopsy (skin sample) to be tested in a laboratory. They should receive the test results in 1 to 2 weeks and advise whether you need further treatment.
  • Who needs it: Everyone should self-examine their skin regularly. A great way to monitor any changes is to have someone take a photo of you in your underwear every few months. If you notice any changes, get a skin check. People at high risk of skin cancer, including those with a family history, fair skin, several moles and a history of sunburns, should get skin checks every 6 to 12 months.
  • How often: When you notice changes in your skin or every 6 to 12 months if you’re at high risk.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Early detection through regular skin checks greatly improves outcomes and survival rates.
  • Hassle rating: 4/10

Tip: Skin cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers) accounts for the largest number of cancers diagnosed in Australia each year.

Bone density check

We tend to get thicker as we age, so it’s a bit insulting that our bone density does the opposite. Women are particularly at risk and can lose up to 10% of their bone density in the first 5 years following menopause. This can lead to osteoporosis, a condition in which bones weaken and can fracture more easily. 

  • What it is: Bone density is measured with a special X-ray known as a DXA scan. It requires you to lie on a table fully clothed and takes about 15 minutes to complete. The results will indicate whether you have normal bone density, osteopenia (some bones loss) or osteoporosis (significant bone loss). 
  • Who needs it: People who have diagnosed osteoporosis or risk factors for osteoporosis, including women with early menopause, men with low testosterone, previous fractures from minor incidents, corticosteroid use, and chronic conditions including coeliac disease, thyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and liver or kidney disease. Medicare will cover your bone density scan if you meet these criteria, but otherwise you’ll have to pay out of pocket. To find out if you’re at risk, take this quick online assessment or talk to your GP.
  • How often: Testing frequency depends on previous scan results, so talk to your doctor. 
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: You could avoid gnarly fractures.
  • Hassle rating: 4/10

Tip: The Arthritis Foundation says 1.2m Australians have osteoporosis, which results in bone fractures happening every 5-6 minutes in this country.

 Kidney health check

You probably don’t give much thought to your kidneys, but approximately 1 in 10 Australians has chronic kidney disease and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to get it. 

  • What it is: Your doc will perform a series of tests, including a blood pressure check, a urine test, a blood test and sometimes an ultrasound or CT scan. Medicare should cover most of the cost, but ask your doctor about any out-of-pocket costs beforehand.
  • Who needs it: People who have one or several risk factors for kidney disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart problems and being a smoker. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also at increased risk. Talk to your doctor or take this two-minute online quiz to help you figure out whether you should get tested and how often.

  • How often: Every 1 to 3 years depending on your level of risk and results.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: It’s known as a silent disease because there are often no symptoms.
  • Hassle rating: 8/10

Tip: Chronic kidney disease often accompanies cardiovascular disease and diabetes, with its prevalence increasing with age. It affects around 44% of people aged 75 and older.  

Sexually transmitted infections check

If you’re sexually active, no matter what your age, there’s a chance you could contract an STI. Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, hepatitis B and HIV.

  • What it is: Your doctor will ask you questions to assess your risk of STIs. Depending on which STIs you’re being tested for, you may need to undergo a urine test, blood test, throat swab, vaginal swab or anal swab.
  • Who needs it: Anyone who has unprotected sex can get an STI, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and men who have sex with men are at higher risk.
  • How often: It depends on your risk factors, so ask your GP. You may want to consider getting tested if you have a new partner or multiple partners.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Syphilis led to Al Capone’s demise. Don’t be like Al Capone.
  • Hassle rating: 7/10

Tip: Sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhoea are generally increasing among older women in Australia at a faster rate than among younger women.

Bowel cancer check

After lurking in the shadows for decades because no one wanted to talk about their innards, bowel cancer is finally getting the recognition it deserves. It’s a good thing, too, because Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.

  • What it is: Australians aged 50 to 74 who have a Medicare card will receive a free bowel screening test in the mail every 2 years through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The test involves collecting 2 small samples of poo and mailing them to a pathology lab in a reply paid envelope. If your results come back positive, your GP may refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.
  • Who needs it: People aged 50 to 74 will automatically receive a kit in the mail and those aged 45 to 49 can request a subsidised kit from their doctor.
  • How often: Every 2 years.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: A whopping 90% of cases can be treated successfully if they’re detected early.
  • Hassle rating: 6/10 (and 10/10 if you need the colonoscopy!)

Tip: Medical experts are lobbying the government to start bowel screening at age 45 to prevent more deaths.

Breast cancer check 

Mammograms get a bad rap, but did you know they only take a few minutes? And they’re well worth it because breast cancer affects 1 in 7 Australian women. 

  • What it is: Women aged 50 to 74 are invited for a free mammogram every 2 years through BreastScreen Australia. During a mammogram, each breast is pressed between two X-ray plates and pictures are taken. While it can be a bit uncomfortable, it’s over before you know it.
  • Who needs it: Women aged 50 to 74 receive a letter inviting them to participate in the program, but women 40 to 49 can also book a free mammogram online. 
  • How often: Every 2 years.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: 5-year survival rates are 100% for Stage 1 (early) breast cancer, 95% for stage 2, 81% for stage 3 and 32% for stage 4. Early detection can save your life! 
  • Hassle rating: 7/10

Tip: If you have a mother or grandmother with breast cancer, it’s worth chatting to your GP about your screening options. Many clinics will now charge an additional fee over and above the Medicare rebate for mammograms so it’s worth shopping around for providers or enrolling in your state’s free breast screening program.

Cervical cancer check

Since the National Cervical Screening Program launched in 1991, the number of cases of cervical cancer has plummeted. But you’ve got to be in it to win it.

  • What it is: The cervical screening test, which replaced the Pap test in 2017, detects human papillomavirus (HPV) - a common cause of cervical cancer. The screening test is done at your doctor’s office. A doctor or nurse can collect a sample from your cervix using a swab or you can collect it yourself. The sample is analysed in a lab and your results are sent to your GP and the National Cancer Screening Register. You’ll receive a letter when you’re next due for a screen.
  • Who needs it: Women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 who have had any sexual contact in the past are eligible for the cervical screening test.
  • How often: Every 5 years if HPV isn’t detected. If you do have the virus, your doctor will let you know when to get tested next.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: It’s one of the most preventable cancers through regular screening tests.
  • Hassle rating: 7/10

Tip: The pap smear is becoming less and less frequent now that vaccination programs have been introduced, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them.

Testicular cancer check

Testicular cancer only affects 1 in 100 Australian men and 9 out of 10 cases can be cured, but detection is in your hands (pardon the pun).

  • What it is: Men should perform regular self-examinations by gently rolling each testicle between their thumb and fingers to search for any lumps or swelling. If you notice any changes, make an appointment with your GP. They will examine you and may send you for further tests including a blood test, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI or biopsy.
  • Who needs it: All adult men should regularly check their testicles. Those who have undescended testicles, fertility problems or a family history of testicular cancer could be at higher risk.
  • How often: There aren’t any official guidelines.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Early detection improves outcomes.
  • Hassle rating: 2/10

Tip: In Australia, about 850 people are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year, accounting for around 1% of male cancers. 

Dental check

Regular dental checks aren’t only important so you can keep flashing those pearly whites well into old age. Oral conditions including tooth decay and gum disease (which increases to 58 percent of people aged 55 and over) can impact your overall health. Gum disease is associated with a higher risk of serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

  • What it is: Your dentist will examine your teeth and gums, take X-rays to check for tooth decay, thoroughly clean your teeth and may offer preventative care such as fluoride or polishing. While public dental clinics where costs are covered by Medicare do exist, waiting lists are often very long. Most dental check-ups happen in private clinics and aren’t covered by Medicare, though private health insurance can cover some of the cost.
  • Who needs it: All adults.
  • How often: Every 6 to 12 months. Your dentist will let you know if you need more frequent check-ups.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: One word: dentures.
  • Hassle rating: 8/10

Tip: More than three-quarters of Australians say they have a dentist they usually see. Periodontal disease affects the tissues that both surround and support the teeth. The disease is characterized by bleeding or swollen gums (gingivitis), pain and sometimes bad breath. In its more severe form, the gum can come away from the tooth and supporting bone, causing teeth to become loose and sometimes fall out. 

Read more about how to get cheap dental care and how to keep your teeth in your head for life.

Prostate cancer check

Ahhh, the dreaded prostate exam. But for all the fuss we make about it, there isn’t a national screening program for prostate cancer because experts don’t recommend routine screening for healthy men aged 50 to 69 without a family history. 

  • What it is: There are several different tests your doctor can perform. A digital rectal examination involves inserting a gloved finger into your rectum to check your prostate manually. A prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that measures levels of a protein that could indicate prostate cancer, but this test isn’t always accurate. An MRI scan can look for signs of cancer on your prostate, but a biopsy (a sample taken with a needle) is the only way to confirm a prostate cancer diagnosis. While Medicare covers digital exams and PSA tests, you may have out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or biopsy.
  • Who needs it: If you have a family history or prostate cancer or symptoms such as difficulty urinating, talk to your GP about whether you should get tested.
  • How often: There aren’t any official guidelines.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: Hopefully your GP says you can.
  • Hassle rating: 10/10

Read more about prostate health and why removing the shame and stigma surrounding men's health is vital.

Mental health check

With 44% of Australians experiencing a mental health condition at some point in their lives, there’s no shame in seeking psychological support.

  • What it is: Your GP can perform a free mental health assessment that involves a short questionnaire and discussing your symptoms. If the results of the assessment point to a condition such as depression or anxiety, your GP can write out a mental health treatment plan for you. This will give you access to 6 sessions with a psychologist at a reduced rate. While Medicare will cover part of the psychologist’s fee, you’re likely to have out-of-pocket costs. When your 6 sessions are done, you can see your GP again to obtain more subsidised sessions for a maximum of 10 per calendar year.
  • Who needs it: Anyone who is struggling with their mental health.

  • How often: As needed.
  • Why you shouldn’t put it off: You deserve to make the most of all your years.
  • Hassle rating: 5/10

Tip: Did you know that there are some conditions that mimic depression, so it’s always worth checking in with your GP if you are suffering symptoms like feeling tired, low or teary.

Recommended vaccinations for people aged 50-60

The lollipop the nurse gives you after you’ve had your shots might not be as big a draw card as it once was, but you can prevent serious complications from several diseases by getting immunised.

Some vaccines are provided for free to adults who are at increased risk of complications under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). You can also get catch-up vaccines if you missed any immunisations as a child.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should get the following vaccinations or boosters.

Influenza

The flu strains change every year, so the Australian Immunisation Handbook recommends getting an annual flu shot.

  • Who it’s recommended for: All adults.

  • How often: Once a year.

  • Who gets it free in their 50s? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with specific medical conditions.

Covid-19

While it might feel like the pandemic is behind us, COVID-19 can still cause severe illness and even death in older people and those with certain medical conditions.

  • Who it’s recommended for: Healthy adults should receive 2 doses for their primary course vaccination and people who are severely immunocompromised should get 3 doses. After that, booster doses are recommended for people with medical conditions that put them at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Talk to your GP about whether a booster is right for you.
  • How often: Your doctor will recommend the right vaccination and booster schedule for your circumstances.
  • Who gets it free in their 50s? Everyone.

Pneumococcal

Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can cause everything from a mild ear infection to pneumonia and meningitis.

  • How often: The dosage schedule varies depending on age and medical conditions, so ask your GP.
  • Who gets it free in their 50s? The same groups it’s recommended for.

Shingles

Also known as herpes zoster, shingles happens when the chickenpox virus is reactivated. It causes a painful rash with blisters.

  • Who it’s recommended for: Everyone aged 50 and over.
  • How often: 2 doses given 2 to 6 months apart in healthy people or 1 to 2 months apart in immunocompromised people.
  • Who gets it free in their 50s? Immunocompromised people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, brain damage and even death. It’s especially dangerous for babies under six months old.

  • Who it’s recommended for: Anyone who will be around a young baby, including grandparents, should get a booster.

  • How often: Every 10 years.
  • Who gets it free in their 50s? No one.

Travel vaccinations

You should always check the Smart Traveller website and chat with your doctor to find out the best vaccinations for any destinations you plan to visit.

  • Who it’s recommended for: Anyone going overseas should have travel insurance and be up to date with vaccinations and boosters for the area they are travelling.

  • How often: Every time you travel overseas.
  • Who gets it free in their 50s? No one.

Common vaccinations that may need to be topped up as you get older. Many vaccinations become less effective over time. It's always worth speaking to your GP or health practitioner about what's right for you.

Fifty is the new fabulous! A note from the writer

You may be living your best life and not feel the need to see the doctor, but being proactive about your health will help you stay fighting fit for decades to come. 

The truth is that many health conditions don’t have any obvious symptoms and the only way to detect them is through routine health checks

This guide contains a complete list of checks, tests, scans and vaccinations you should get in your 50s.

When I was younger, I'd hear people utter clichés like "Your health is your wealth" and roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head. But these days, I feel that saying deep in my core.

After fighting breast cancer with everything I had so I could watch my 3 beautiful daughters grow up, I know there isn't anything more valuable on this planet than having a healthy body and mind.

I'd always taken care of myself, but I took a good hard look at my habits after I'd emerged from the fog of cancer treatment. I joined the gym (and became slightly addicted), tweaked my diet and gave up alcohol. I've never felt happier, healthier or stronger in my life. 

I also stay on top of every health check that's recommended for my age. After all, I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't had a mammogram at the precocious age of 43. 

Doctors told me I didn't need to start getting them until I turned 47 - 10 years before my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer - but I followed my gut and saved my own life.

Health checks aren't as fun as lunch with your best mate or a round of golf. But most of them are over before you know it, and you can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing you have a clear bill of health.

I hope this guide empowers Australians in their 50s to take control of their health and improve their outcomes.

Fifty is the new fabulous, so tick these health checks off your to-do list and go live your best life.

-Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional healthcare provider.

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