Your fitness level, particular health worries and age will all help decide the best check up for you, as Abi Jackson reports

There's a growing focus on preventative health right now - which basically means taking steps to prevent things becoming a problem, rather than waiting until disaster strikes before taking action.

Just as we send our cars for MOTs, it makes sense to consider booking yourself in for a thorough health check every once in a while. After all, when things go wrong with our bodies, it's not as simple as calling the garage and putting in an order for replacement parts.

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But, what are the options?

NHS Health Checks

Most of us have had a general check-up when registering at a new GP surgery. But the NHS operates a more thorough Health Check programme too, offered every five years to people aged 40-74 who've not already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Its main purpose is to monitor individuals' risk levels for developing stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia - all very common but preventable major conditions in the UK within those age groups - and spot early signs so they can be tackled early.

"Anyone can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, by getting more active and reducing smoking, excess weight, cholesterol and high blood pressure. The NHS Health Check programme helps people over 40 do this and it is already estimated to have prevented around 2,500 heart attacks and strokes," says associate professor Jamie Waterall, national lead for the NHS Health Check programme.

The Health Check lasts around 20-30 minutes. A nurse or healthcare assistant will usually ask you some simple questions about your lifestyle and family history, measure your height and weight, and take your blood pressure and do a blood test, often using a small finger prick test.

Through other healthcare companies

A wide range of private healthcare companies offer health check services, which may be available as part of a health insurance package (some employers provide this). The price of a one-off ranges upwards of £100 - sometimes considerably more for in-depth checks, involving scans or other costly tests.

If you have particular concerns, it's worth taking time to find the check that's best for you - but sometimes the appeal is simply to have an all-over general check-up.

"We find that people who want to stay fit and healthy often choose a health assessment to help them stay on track. Others also like to have some reassurance or a diagnosis if they are worried," says Kevin Thomson, head of HealthFirst at BMI Healthcare (bmihealthcare.co.uk), whose checks include the BMI Essential (£177), BMI Select Assessment (£344) and BMI Advanced (£521).

"For example, a fit runner may like to have a cardio assessment to give them an indication of their heart health, while another person whose parents have developed type 2 diabetes may wish to check their own likelihood of developing the condition."

Nuffield Health (nuffieldhealth.com), one of the UK's leading not-for-profit healthcare organisations, is also known for its health assessment services, starting from £259.

Justin Jones, professional head of physiology at Nuffield Health, says: "Our health assessments are available to anyone over 18. We use a multidisciplinary team of doctors and health and wellbeing physiologists [and] offer four unique assessments: Lifestyle, Female, 360 and our most comprehensive 360+.

"These different assessments allow specific tests to be added, creating a tailored assessment based on age and gender. For example, a thyroid function test is included for women over 50 and a mammogram is available for women over 40. A prostate specific-antigen (PSA) is offered to men aged 50 or over, while both men and women over 45 are offered a faecal occult blood test as part of a screen for possible bowel cancer. "

On the high street

While you can't walk into a pharmacy (yet) and get a thorough top-to-toe MOT, you may be able to access a range of checks that address specific key areas - such as blood pressure and diabetes.

Some local pharmacies will do these things for free (pop in and ask), while Boots pharmacies and LloydsPharmacies offer a range of consultations and health check services too - some are free and others have to be paid for.

Among those available at LloydsPharmacies are a Cholesterol and Heart Check Service (£15) and Cholesterol Check-up Service (£9.99), while their free services include Blood Pressure Testing and Type 2 Diabetes Screening.

You can usually just walk in and ask, though during busy times you might need to book.

These services "provide a convenient, accessible and alternative service to GP appointments which allow people to develop a greater understanding of their health while supporting them to take control and manage their health proactively. Each patient will be assessed for suitability prior to a check, with many services open to under 16s if accompanied by an adult," says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat.