When it comes to personal health and wellness, your smartphone may be your best ally. With an explosion of mobile apps devoted to health, fitness and proper nutrition, you’re always a download away from upping your health and fitness game.
“The explosion of health-related apps is due to the collision of two industries with very different mindsets,” explains John C. Alexander, MD, MBA, associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern. “Healthcare tends to move slowly and cautiously in adopting technology because our patients’ health and lives are at stake. Technology developers, especially in software, have a much greater tolerance for failure as the stakes tend to be lower, and failure can provide valuable feedback for future iterations of the software.”
While mobile technology should never serve as a substitute for going to the doctor’s office, free and low-cost apps can address a wide range of health-related needs in between visits and help you stay on the path toward better living.
HealthTap – Since 2010, HealthTap has been connecting consumers with online health information sourced directly from doctors. Today, this unique app connects smartphone owners to a network of more than 140,000 doctors who will respond to specific health questions. It even provides a patient navigation system that guides consumers to the care they need.
Medical ID – A critical health app, Medical ID allows you to create a medical profile that is accessible from your smartphone’s lock screen. So, if you slip and fall in the bathtub, the Medical ID app offers first responders quick access to key information, including allergies, blood type and emergency contacts. For iPhone users, the app is already installed and encrypted on your device through the Health app. Just tap on the Health app, followed by the Medical ID tab to fill out your information. Android users have to download the app first.
WhatsMyM3 – Developed by a team of psychiatric professionals and adopted by the Mental Health America and The National Council, two of the leading mental-health advocacy organizations in the country, WhatsMyM3 confidentially assesses your health risk for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
MapMyRun – True to namesake, MapMyRun tracks and maps your route using GPS technology. A bonus: The app also provides millions of routes other runners have already traversed and encourages you to share your treks with other users. In addition to all things running, MapMyRun offers a nutrition log so you can keep track of multiple aspects of your health.
Sworkit – Need a customized circuit routine stat? Sworkit may be just what the doctor ordered. This easy-to-use app offers circuit-training workouts you can do anytime, anywhere. You choose the length of your workout, which body part you want to target (abs, glutes or upper body) along with the type of workout you’re craving whether cardio, sculpting or stretching. And voila, instant workout access.
Strava – Strava is Swedish for strive, and that’s just what this app is designed to do: Build the most engaged community of athletes in the world – and the company is doing a good job. Expert insiders say it’s among the most popular fitness tracker apps among walkers and runners. A bonus: Strava boasts a gamification component, which probably accounts for at least some of the draw.
MyFitnessPal – This innovative app boasts a bevy of tools to help you achieve your fitness goals. Just load your age, height, current weight and goal weight and it will spit out how many calories you should consume. It also tracks your activity and calorie intake using a searchable database of food items. That’s a big plus when you consider studies showing that food trackers are more likely to lose weight. Another win: MyFitnessPal has a supportive online community where users share their tips for weight loss success.
Cost: Free for Android and Apple
Fooducate – Fooducate goes beyond calorie tracking and offers you valuable insight about the quality of the food you put in your mouth. It also monitors your sleep, mood and hunger levels to help you pinpoint where you can improve. Plus, if you’re managing a chronic health condition, or trying to avoid specific allergens, Fooducate can keep you on track.
Substitutions – This app is invaluable to people who have restricted diet. With instant access to more than 1,500 substitutions for popular food items ranging from dairy to gluten – and everything in between – substitutions can help you steer clear of dietary culprits. A few popular substitution search categories: Alcohol, gluten, sodium and migraine triggers.
SLEEP AND RELAXATION
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock – Most people set their alarm clocks for a specific time – then they’re jolted awake at any point during the sleep cycle. This unique app tracks your sleep habits and then wakes you up during light sleep within a set window you establish. So instead of waking up groggy out of a deep sleep, you wake up refreshed at the optimal point in your sleep cycle.
Cost: variable depending which option you chose.
Sleep Cycle Power Nap – As a teacher, you know the power of an afternoon nap. This unique app allows you to schedule a 20-minute power nap or a full 90 minutes. What’s more, it doesn’t start the running timer until you fall asleep. The sleep app also has various sounds to help you relax so you can fall asleep.
White Noise Lite – A favorite among light sleepers who need to drown out ambient noise, this app lets you fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves (or whatever soothing sounds you fancy). The app comes loaded looped sounds ranging from a burning campfire to a swaying boat. And if you need to wake up, you can use the app to schedule a gentle alarm, such as a strumming guitar, chime or violin.
Headspace – It’s no secret that meditation helps reduce stress, increase productivity and improve mood. But for busy teachers and administrators, focusing on the present moment is, well, tough! Headspace makes it easy. Billed as one of the best apps to help newbies learn to go Zen, Headspace offers a free 10-day beginner’s course to new meditators. Some even call it “enlightenment” in app form.
Cost: Free to start, but after 10 days, monthly subscriptions range from $5.74 to $14.95.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Unlike virtually any other medical device, smartphone applications fall outside of the regulatory purview of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so there’s no way to know whether apps do what they claim. Still, experts agree, when apps are used properly, they can support – and even encourage – a healthy lifestyle.
“The smartphone is the most rapidly adopted technology in recorded human history. The ability to easily track and visualize data like diet, exercise, and sleep can have a big impact on health, whether to treat disease or prevent it,” says Alexander. “The data that can be generated by these apps is immense, both on a personal and population level.”
No matter which apps you choose, view mobile and digital technology as a complementary piece of the bigger health puzzle. It can help you meet your health and fitness goals, act as a conduit of information for your physician and even sound an alarm when you’re getting off track. But it should never be viewed as a replacement for the physician, say experts.