Here’s What You Can Really Do With Apple’s Health App

Apple iOS 8 Health app


Many users have complained that Apple’s Health app hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding its launch with iOS 8. It’s more complex — and less immediately useful — than Apple’s other native apps; getting your data to display can require some experimentation; and you won’t see the benefits of setting it up until you’ve used it for a while. But there are hundreds of good reasons to give it a try: all of the beautiful and capable health, fitness, and medically-focused apps that developers are creating to integrate with the platform.

The Health app is underpinned by a framework called HealthKit, which enables it to act as a hub for all of the health data collected by your apps and wearable devices. Then the Health app enables these other, third-party apps to access your health data and get a clearer picture of your health. On its support page on how to use Health on your iPhone, Apple explains the three most important parts of the app. “The Dashboard in health gives you an overview of your data. Health Data is where you track your body measurements and other data. In Sources, you can control how other apps work with Health. Medical ID can store and display your important information.”

Via the Dashboard, you can choose what data Health displays, and choose to display that data by day, week, month, or year. In Health Data, you can track your body measurements, fitness stats, information about yourself, and more. In Sources, you can see the third-party apps and devices that can send data to Health, and control which have access to your health data. And with Medical ID, you can add information such as birthdate, height, weight, blood type, and emergency contacts.

So what apps should you try out if you’re curious about how Health and HealthKit work? Developing health and fitness-related apps is a big business now, and there are more choices than ever before for users looking for apps to experiment with. And in the iOS App Store, there are a number of ways for users to find these apps. You can check out the Health & Fitness category, or perhaps the listing of Medical apps. You can look at a feature on the first crop of apps using Apple’s newly-announced ResearchKit framework (MyHeart CountsParkinson mPowerGlucoSuccessShare the Journey, and Asthma Health), scroll through the App Store’s top Apps for Doctors, Apps for Patients, Apps for the Great Outdoors, or check out one of its many collections of apps: Rest and Relaxation, Working Out, Get in Shape, Apps for Runners, Apps for the Weekend, Yoga, Hiking & Camping, Eat Your Greens, or Apps for Cyclists.

Health iOS 8


One of the most useful ways to discover the great health and medical apps that developers are creating — and a feature we wish Apple would incorporate as a more prominent collection or filter for App Store users — is the App Store’s collection of apps for the Health app. We’ve gone through Apple’s listing of the best apps for Health, and chosen a few that we think are worth the time it’ll take for you to try them out.

Activity and fitness tracking

Some of the most popular health-related apps on the iPhone — or at least the ones you hear people talking about the most — are fitness apps that help you track your activity and gather data on your workouts, all in pursuit of quantifying how much you’re moving and where you can improve. Most iOS users have heard of apps like RunKeeperStrava, and Nike+ Fuel. But what if you’re looking to try something different?

Try out Human, an all-day activity tracker that automatically tracks how many minutes you move (without the need for a separate wearable device), measures the intensity of activities to calculate active calories, and reminds you to move at least 30 minutes everyday. Another app to try is Fjuul, which keeps track of the intensity of your movement while you “walk, work, run, dance, jog, shop, or party,” and uses HealthKit to record steps, active calories and resting calories. Or try Argus, which counts your steps and active calories, features GPS mapping of your running or cycling, enables you to create a food diary, and sets goals for steps and hydration.

iOS apps can also help guide your workouts and other physical activities. Download PEAR Personal Coach for eyes-free, hands-free, interactive audio workouts that you can complete anywhere. PEAR synchronizes the results from your workouts, like time, distance, calories, and heart rate, with the Health app, and can read your weight and birthday from Health to calculate your heart rate zones. Try Fitnet to create a fitness plan and complete yoga, Taiji, strength, and cardio workouts  and share calories burned during exercise with HealthKit. Or, for a change of pace, spend some time with Omvana, which features guided meditations ranging between 3 and 60 minutes, and a HealthKit integration that recognizes your stress levels and recommends a meditation to keep you calm.



Improving your nutrition and sleep

Another major area where Health and integrated apps can add a lot of value is in tracking your nutrition. While Health enables you to manually add a variety of metrics — like your intake of caffeine, fiber, protein, sodium, or sugar — that can get tedious. So a variety of third-party apps can make the task easier (and popular standbys like Weight Watchers aren’t your only option if you’re looking to try something new).

Try Lifesum to log meals and water — plus exercise — and customize your nutritional goals. If you want more guidance, let Nutrino tell you what to eat to achieve your health goals based on your medical profile, goals and culinary preferences. Nutrino will add your meal summaries to the Health app, recording nutrients like carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. Download Foodzy to keep track of everything you eat and drink, and invite friends to share recipes. Or try My Macros+ for a robust diet-tracking tool that includes 40,000 food items — including some from popular fast food restaurants — and lets you set daily goals and track your progress toward them.

You can also Health-integrated apps to track how well you’re sleeping, and make waking up in the mornings easier with a smarter version of an alarm clock. Try Sleep Cycle, which analyzes your sleep and wakes you up in the lightest sleep phase so that you feel rested and relaxed when you wake up. For help in improving your sleep, download Sleepio, which offers a personalized program of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to teach you the cognitive and behavioral techniques that will help you get your sleep schedule into shape.

Fertility tracking

While Apple has said that the Health app on your iPhone will track all of the health data you could possibly want and show you “your whole health picture,” its initial release and even subsequent updates have all made a glaring omission: there’s no way for women to track their periods. As Kashmir Hill notes, writing for Fusion, periods differ from woman to woman in how often they occur and how long they last, and women track them for fertility purposes – either to get pregnant or to avoid pregnancy. While including period-tracking in HealthKit would give women a secure way to track their data right from the Health app’s central hub, there are a few period-tracking and fertility-focused apps that already integrate with Health available on the App Store.

Try Glow, which features a period tracker, ovulation calculator, and fertility calendar. Glow can send data such as temperature and height to Apple’s Health app, and get data like sleep, weight, and workouts from Health. It can also sync with other health apps, like Jawbone, MyFitnessPal, Fitbit, and Misfit. Another app to try is Ovia Fertility, which enables you to track your cycle and predict your exact ovulation and fertile window. It integrates with Health to share blood pressure, weight, steps, and body temperature data, and syncs with FitBit, Jawbone, and Withings fitness trackers.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Taking control of your medical journey

When your doctor or care provider is on board with HealthKit, the apps integrated with the platform can offer you even more benefits than when you’re using health and fitness-tracking apps on your own.

Steve Lohr recently wrote about “the healing power of your own medical records” for The New York Times, reporting that patents who have access to data on their own health “are more likely to take better care of themselves, comply with prescription drug regimens and even detect early-warning signals of illness.” Some medical centers and groups are leveraging the capabilities of data-tracking technology to allow patients access to their medical records, and iOS apps that integrate with HealthKit can help you take control of your medical data.

Epic’s MyChart lets you manage your health information and communicate with your doctor. With the app, you can review test results, medications, and your immunization history; upload health and fitness data, including data from the Health app; manage your appointments; and stay in touch with your physician. The Mayo Clinic app enables patients to access their personal medical records and appointment schedules, or contact their care team through secure messaging.

Other apps are specifically designed to keep you in contact with your physician between appointments and through treatments and recovery. HealthLoop lets your doctor check in with you, offers you notifications from your medical team, gives you daily guidance on recovery activities, clinical tasks, and reminders to keep you on track, and shares relevant data with your doctor through HealthKit. Patient IO gives you treatment-specific reminders, information from your healthcare provider and care team, and lets you email or call your care team with one tap. Try onpatient, which lets you share your Health app data with your doctor, schedule appointments, access your medical records, and see your medications and allergies.

You can also download apps that are designed specifically to help you manage a chronic condition. Qardio connects with a wireless blood pressure monitor to enable you to track your heart health and monitor your blood pressure to help you understand how it changes based on the time and place. iHealth Gluco-Smart lets you check and track your blood sugar levels, automatically record test results, and review a digital logbook with details of each measurement. And Diabetes Logbook aims to make your data useful in your everyday life with easy logging, clear graphs, challenges and immediate feedback.

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