Health & Wellness

Make it a healthy new year! 6 medical screenings you can do at home

Will you be paying closer attention to your health in 2016? You can start right in your own home.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar stopped by TODAY Monday to show us six do-it-yourself health tests that take just 1 minute each.

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Vision loss test, other health screenings you can do at home in 60 seconds

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Vision loss test, other health screenings you can do at home in 60 seconds

Play Video - 4:14

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Remember, a positive result is just an indicator of a symptom and doesn’t necessarily mean you are sick.

Cross-legged squat test for agility and longevity

  • Start off with 10 points. Cross your legs, squat down and sit down on the floor; then get back up. If you don’t use hands, feet or wobble at all, you keep your 10 points. If any part of your body touches down, you lose a point.
  • Aim to score an 8 or higher in this test of muscle strength, balance, flexibility and agility.
  • How can this test predict longevity? “According to researchers a couple of years ago, it did so with alarming accuracy,” Azar said. “The lower your number, the greater likelihood it is that you’re going to die in the next six years.”

Bad breath test

  • Scrape the back of your tongue with a spoon, seal the spoon in a plastic bag and put it under a bright light for one minute. Then, smell it.
  • A healthy tongue coating should be clear, but if what you find on the spoon is thick, colored or has an unpleasant odor, it could be an early sign of problems with your respiratory system, liver, kidneys, hormones or gut.
  • Most cases of bad breath will be related to gum disease or tonsils, but really ominous odors could be a sign of a larger health problem. Azar said a fruity smell could be a sign of diabetes; an ammonia smell could be related to kidney problems, other smells could indicate gastric or lung problems.
  • And while you’re at it, take note that this test is the closest indicator of how your breath smells to other people.

Clock test for dementia

  • Draw a clock on a piece of paper, add the numbers in the right order and make the hands point to 3:40. You get one point each for drawing a closed circle, properly placed numbers, getting all 12 numbers and properly placed hands. A score lower than four points could be a cause for concern.

The test assesses cognitive functions like memory, problem solving and executive functions like planning.

“It’s a good screening test for early dementia,” Azar said. Studies have shown it's a good predictor of cognitive health.

If a loved one doesn’t do well on the test, get a screening for dementia.

Window test for eyes and vision loss

  • Look at a door frame or large window frame from across a room where you can see vertical and horizontal lines. Cover one eye and look at it for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • You should be able to see the edges of the frame as vertical and horizontal parallel lines without any wavy or missing parts. If the door frame edges seem like they have kinks or are distorted, or bow in or out, this may indicate that you have macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of vision loss in people over 50.

Wobble test for faulty thyroid

  • Stretch out your hand with your palm down, and place a piece of paper on top of it.
  • Look for trembling or shaking of the paper, which could be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
  • The condition, in which the thyroid is revved up and causes the body’s functions to go into hyperdrive, is more common in women, who are four times more likely than men to have it.
  • The movement could be too small to see on its own, but the paper accentuates any shaking.
  • Keep in mind, though, that a slight tremble is common, and can be caused by caffeine, asthma medication, anxiety or low blood-sugar levels.

Cushion test for artery problems

  • Lie on your back on a bed and elevate both legs to a 45-degree angle on cushions. Hold them there for one minute then quickly hang your legs down over the side of the bed at 90 degrees.
  • If one or both of your feet or legs become very pale when elevated but take several minutes to return to their regular color, it could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease.

Risk factors for peripheral arterial disease, in which the arteries that supply the leg muscles become narrowed, are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

One caveat: This test can give a false positive in healthy people (it could be sign of poor circulation linked to Raynaud's disease). Before you worry about peripheral arterial disease, additional signs to look for are cramping, pain and tiredness in the legs while walking or climbing stairs.

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam

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