Good health and prevention are paramount to living a vibrant, active life after 50. But sometimes we get busy and going to see the doctor may take a back seat. Thankfully, there are a handful of tests that provide us with meaningful health information without stepping foot in a doctor’s office. Although they don’t replace a doctor, they enable us to monitor our own health and take preventative actions.
There are important blood tests that reveal much about our health and can identify potential health problems. By the time we’ve reached 50, we pretty much know which basic tests we need, yet the process is a bit daunting. It goes something like this: call the doctor’s office and schedule an appointment, wait for the appointment, go to the appointment and ask for lab tests, make an appointment at the blood lab, wait for the results, schedule another appointment with the doctor, wait some more, and then show up, only for him or her to read a report we could have read and interpreted thanks to basic reference ranges. Sound familiar?
This process is not only time consuming, it can be more expensive than ordering the tests yourself on Direct Labs. Available in 46 states, Direct Labs offers a multitude of blood tests, information about each test, and a simple process: order and pay for the tests online, print out your requisition with directions, take the requisition to a Quest Diagnostics near you, and review your online report typically two to three days later.
Your report will include each test result and a reference range (the range that is considered normal), and the Direct Labs website provides information regarding what each test measures and implications. For example, for the HDL cholesterol test, your result may be 80 with a reference range of > 50 mg/dL. The HDL information states: Cholesterol High-Density Lipoproteins are believed to take cholesterol away from cells and transport it back to the liver for processing or removal. They have become known as the “good” cholesterol as persons with high levels of HDL may have less heart disease. Low HDL could be the result of smoking and lack of exercise.
If there’s a problem, you can then schedule an appointment with a doctor to follow up on a potential concern. For example, if your blood test reveals that your fasting glucose levels were above the reference range, you could then see an endocrinologist, bring your blood test report, and start cutting back on sugar.
I recently ordered the Comprehensive Wellness Profile that encompasses almost 50 tests, including CBC, platelets, metabolic panel, iron, lipid panel (cholesterol and triglycerides), liver profile, kidney panel, TSH (thyroid), uric acid, potassium, glucose, and iron — all for $97. I then threw in the B12 and folic acid (folate) test for an additional $98. My total cost was less than what I would have paid for the co-pays for two doctor’s visits and pricier lab fees if they had been ordered through his office. It also saved me a bunch of time.
Our bodies are made of cells and those cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Our chromosomes are made of DNA, which can tell us a lot about our ancestry, traits and health. 23andMe offers a simple test that provides us with valuable information and the process is confidential. You order the test kit online, spit into a test tube, and mail the kit back to their certified lab. Within six weeks, you receive your reports. Easy peasy.
In addition to ancestry reports, 23andMe offers a genetic health risk report that provides information about whether you carry genetic markers associated with risks for certain health conditions. The results are not a diagnosis, but rather indicate if you have a variant associated with an increased risk of developing a specific disease or condition. It provides insight and data that may influence lifestyle changes you may want to make. The health risk reports include late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, macular degeneration, and some cancers.
As part of the health report, 23andMe also provides wellness reports that show how your DNA relates to overall health and well-being, like muscle composition, sleep movement, lactose intolerance, genetic weight, and caffeine consumption. The reports outline healthy habits to offset any specific predispositions.
Blood Pressure Test
If your blood pressure is high or marginal, it’s important to pay attention to your blood pressure readings. Without getting obsessive, keeping a record is important information for yourself and your doctor.
Blood pressure monitors are inexpensive, accurate and portable. The upper arm style is generally more accurate than the wrist style monitors. The Omron 10 Series Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor is extremely popular, comes highly recommended, and earns 4 1/2 stars on Amazon.
To take your blood pressure, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you:
Be still: Don’t drink caffeinated beverages, smoke or exercise within 30 minutes before measuring blood pressure. Empty your bladder and ensure at least five minutes of quiet rest before measurements.
Sit correctly: Sit with your back straight and supported, with your feet flat on the floor. Support your arms on a flat surface with the upper arm at heart level. The cuff should be placed directly above the bend of the elbow and not over clothing.
Consistency: Measure at the same time every day, and take multiple readings and record the results.
According to the AHA, here’s what is considered normal, prehypertension, and hypertension. If you get readings that are above normal levels, it is important to see your doctor.
Blood Sugar Test
According to the CDC’s 2017 Diabetes Statistics Report, there are over 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes. Even more alarming, 84 million adults have prediabetes, including 23 million aged 65 or older (the age group with the highest rate). Many people have no clue their blood sugar levels are high and that they are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and, its cousin, heart disease.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. The fasting blood sugar test is typically used as an initial test to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. It measures the concentration of glucose in the blood after a 8- to 12-hour fast.
You can include a fasting blood sugar test (glucose) in your blood test and can also purchase a glucometer to monitor your blood sugar. The Contour NEXT Testing Kit includes everything you need and is rated 4 1/2 stars on Amazon. If your blood sugar levels are elevated, it’s essential to see your doctor for additional testing and proper treatment.
Although a fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes and a level below 100 mg/dL is considered normal, there are some doctors who believe 100 is too high and that levels below 85 are ideal. Dr. Chris Kresser and Dr. Mark Hyman provide additional background on ideal blood sugar levels and additional tests to properly diagnose this disease.
Heart Rate Test
This simple test can be done in 30 seconds and gives you a quick snapshot of how your heart is working. A normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats a minute. A lower heart rate means your heart is working more efficiently and generally means better cardiovascular fitness.
To measure your heart rate, place two fingers on your neck below your ear and behind your jaw bone. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 30 seconds and double it to get your beats per minute.
If your heart rate is consistently below 60 and you’re not particularly athletic, you may want to see your doctor, particularly if you have other symptoms like dizziness and shortness of breath. Conversely, if your heart rate is consistently above 100, see your doctor. (Some doctors say 90 is the top level.)
One Jumbo Caveat
These tests can provide meaningful information, but are not a substitute for a doctor’s care. North of 52 is simply sharing five tests that provide important data in your quest to live a healthy, vibrant life.
Product links in this post are to assist readers. North of 52 receives no compensation for these products.
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