Plans to offer "health MoTs" to every person in England will form a key part of the government's health white paper.
Voluntary "life checks" could be held four or five times a lifetime
The voluntary checks - offered at up to five points in a person's life - aim to find those at risk from illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Patients would be offered advice on changing their lifestyle, and possibly the assistance of a personal trainer.
Some health charities welcomed the proposals but GPs said the checks would have to be properly funded.
The white paper, out on Monday, will outline a range of measures to shift NHS care from hospitals into the community.
Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said the idea has been the "number one priority" to come out of a massive public consultation exercise.
She told the BBC: "What we have come up with is the idea, we call it the NHS life check, which you would do at key points in your life.
"To start with it is going to be a self-assessment test that you can fill in either on paper or on-line so that you check your own lifestyle factors and elements of your family history."
The check-ups would be offered at certain points such as birth, age 11 and 18 and when patients reach their 50s.
People will be told in percentage terms the likelihood of their developing serious disease and those most at risk will be allocated a personal health trainer to improve their health.
She said personal trainers would not be available to everyone "for an hour a week on the NHS", but would be able to work out a diet and exercise programme and keep in contact with patients.
She told the paper: "People don't want nannying or to be told what they must do, but they do want more information, advice and support."
Patricia Hewitt says the public wants more advice on health
Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley said his party had advocated selective screening for certain high risk patients.
"We have to make sure NHS resources are used as effectively as possible," he said.
"The evidence is clear for the desirability of checking for certain risk factors, for example at 50 to establish whether people may need cholesterol or blood pressure reducing regular medication."
'Thousands of lives'
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley said the policy seemed "sensible", but added: "These MoTs shouldn't add to the already heavy demands on GPs' time.
"Health MoTs don't have to be performed in the doctors' surgery and can and should be performed by other health professionals."
A spokesman for Diabetes UK said the health checks could ultimately save thousands of lives. Up to one million people were living with type 2 diabetes without knowing it, he added.
"It's quite difficult to pick up the symptoms, which seem to be quite easily put down to people getting older.
"Having these new MoTs cold be a real help in finding these people. We believe people on average live with the condition for 10 years before it is diagnosed."
The spokesman added that spotting diabetes early would free up NHS resources, as the bulk of the money available for diabetes was spent on treating symptoms.
Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK, stressed that high-risk patients must not slip through the net.
But she added: "If we're going to make real progress in preventing life-threatening diseases in this country this is exactly the kind of initiative that's needed."
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the scheme would have to be "properly resourced".
A spokeswoman said: "While it's useful to raise awareness of people's health and the risks to health, you would need to make sure it was properly resourced and that practices are given proper support if the assessments are to occur in the surgery."
The proposal was developed after more than 75% of 1,000 people who took part in a "citizens' summit" in Birmingham last year said they would like a regular health check.
Deprived areas are expected to be the first to start offering the checks, which are expected to become more widely available by 2007 or 2008.
The checks are part of a larger move by the government to see 5% of resources shifted from secondary health care to primary care over the next 10 years.