September 12, 2023

Physical Exams for Men: What To Expect

Screenings and tests done during a wellness check can uncover hidden health issues

doctor standing in front of a calendar holding clipboard

If you’re an adult male, the odds are good that you’ve avoided scheduling a regular health screening.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

SPOILER ALERT: That’s not the best idea, especially when the candles start to add up on your birthday cake.

Regular physical exams offer important insight into your health and body as you age. It’s a way to detect health issues before they become … well, significant health issues.

Yet a 2023 survey by Cleveland Clinic found that almost half of men (44%) DO NOT get an annual physical. The survey was done as part of Cleveland Clinic’s national MENtion It® educational campaign.

Perhaps knowing what happens during a physical exam can help change that number for guys. For more on what to expect during a screening, we turn to primary care specialist Daniel Sullivan, MD.

What is a men’s wellness exam?

Think of a wellness exam as an opportunity to verify that you’re as healthy as you think you might be.

Not every issue in your body is an obvious one, after all. Bruises and broken bones are easy to see. But it’s a little tougher to spot high cholesterol levels or elevated blood sugar with the naked eye.

Tests done during a standard wellness exam can reveal “hidden” issues that deserve attention.

“You can’t treat a condition if you don’t know it’s there,” notes Dr. Sullivan. “Once we learn about an issue, we can consider options to appropriately address it and prevent an illness down the line.”

How often should you have a physical exam?

If you’re in good health, the general recommendation is to start getting regular wellness exams at age 35. “After that, if you’re feeling good, going once every few years is plenty until age 50,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Then, once you cross the half-century mark, an annual checkup is recommended given age-related health issues that become more common. These would include:

Consider those timetables very general, though. More frequent wellness screenings may be called for depending on your personal health history, your family’s health history or lifestyle habits (such as smoking).

What can men expect at a health checkup?

Many of the tests done during a routine health exam are the same regardless of sex, gender or age. Others are a bit more specific to men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) or your age.


Let’s break it down.

Physical exam basics

The start of an exam for everyone (male or female) typically includes some basic tests to offer a quick health snapshot. You can expect tests looking at:

  • Blood pressure. High blood pressure looms as a silent killer, which is why getting a reading is critical. “High blood pressure can wear out your heart, stress your kidneys and put you at higher risk of a stroke,” explains Dr. Sullivan.
  • Heart rate. A heart that’s beating too fast or too slow may provide a clue for a heart issue or other health problem. Heart rate also can be an indicator for overall fitness.
  • Body temperature. A higher-than-average temperature could signal an infection.
  • Breathing and heart sounds. That stethoscope providers wear around their necks isn’t just for show. The tool allows them to listen for anything unusual in your lungs or heart.
  • Eyes. How your pupils react to light can offer insight into your neurological function.
  • Ears. A quick look into your ear can spot a potential infection. The quick check also could reveal a wax buildup that makes hearing more difficult.
  • Height and weight. These measurements allow your healthcare provider to calculate your body mass index (BMI). A high BMI can indicate an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Drastic changes over time may signal health issues, too.

Blood test

A blood test also is generally included as part of a general wellness check, notes Dr. Sullivan. (The blood draw may be done on a separate day from your main office visit given fasting requirements.)

A blood test offers a look at cholesterol and blood sugar levels, “hidden” factors that could show the potential for heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, it can screen for viruses like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and hepatitis C.

“If you were exposed to either of those viruses, which you could pick up through sexual contact or something inadvertent, there are staggeringly effective treatments to put the fire out,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Prostate exam

The prostate is a small gland that’s part of the male reproductive system. It’s also a common spot for cancer to appear — especially later in life. (Fact: On average, 1 in 8 men and people AMAB will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their life.)

It’s recommended that prostate cancer screenings begin by age 55 and continue through age 75.

“A screening may find the cancer sooner, and early treatment is better than waiting for symptoms,” states Dr. Sullivan. “It’s important to have a conversation on this to decide what path you want to take.”

Testing is typically done one of two ways:

Testicular exam

Did you know that testicular cancer is the most common cancer in younger people (ages 15 to 35) assigned male at birth? “It’s a cancer of young men,” says Dr. Sullivan.

During a wellness exam, your healthcare provider may check your testicles for any hard lumps that may signal cancer. An early diagnosis is key, as testicular cancer is very treatable with a cure rate of 95%.


(On a side note, taking two minutes once a month to do a self-exam of your testicles is highly recommended. It’s a simple process, too.)

Colon cancer test

While a colon cancer screening won’t be done in the office during your physical exam, expect to chat about your options during your visit.

Colon cancer screenings are generally recommended beginning at age 45, says Dr. Sullivan. In some cases, elevated risk factors (such as a family history of the disease) may warrant earlier testing.

It should be noted, too, that colon cancer is becoming more common in younger adults.

The “gold standard” for a colon cancer screening is a colonoscopy, a procedure where cancer-causing polyps can be found and removed. “A cancerous polyp that’s in the trash can can’t hurt you,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Some people opt for a stool test for colon cancer screening. In this test, you send a sample of … well, poop to a lab for testing. The tests can detect colon cancer but are not as accurate as a colonoscopy.

Topics to discuss at a wellness check

Expect to have a conversation about healthy living. (After all, that’s why you’re at this exam, right?) Expect to chat about the importance of exercise and nutrition for keeping your body in tip-top shape.

A wellness check also offers an opportunity to talk about (or get) vaccines, including:

“An annual checkup is a time to talk about things that will improve not only your length of life, but your quality of life,” reassures Dr. Sullivan. “It’s worth the investment of time.”

Related Articles

male getting an annual check up
September 17, 2023
Most Common Health Issues for Men

It’s important to watch for and guard against conditions like heart disease and cancer

Neon sign in red that reads tattoo piercing.
May 7, 2023
How To Take Care of a Penis Piercing

Understand the risks and take precautions against infection

Doctor and patient meet in exam room for annual checkup.
April 9, 2023
Here’s What Happens at a Yearly Check-Up

An annual physical exam is important for many reasons, including your chance to ask questions

Man in a doctor's office.
December 19, 2022
Men Ask: “Why Am I Peeing So Much?”

An enlarged prostate, diuretics and bladder irritants can all contribute

Man holding head looking worried or depressed.
October 5, 2022
Can Low Testosterone Cause Anxiety and Depression?

Low testosterone levels can mimic symptoms of depression and cause anxiety over time

urinal men standing blood in urine
June 16, 2022
Is There Blood in Your Urine? What You Need To Know

Why you need to get it checked

man with acne
December 8, 2021
When Should Men See a Dermatologist for Adult Acne?

Three reasons to seek help, plus effective treatment options

elderly man stretching out and lifting weights
September 14, 2020
Men: 7 Secrets to Feeling Great as You Age

Advice for preventing and treating health issues

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery