Examining the Craze of Health and Fitness Apps

Are all health apps useful tools? Or are some better left behind?


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Health and fitness apps are the “in” thing these days. With roughly 100,000 available apps—and new ones coming online everyday—there are plenty of options to choose from, whether you’re looking to track your running, diet, blood pressure or heart rate. And they’re getting plenty of use, according to mobile analytics company Flurry. Between December 2013 and June 2014, health and fitness apps usage grew by 62 percent, compared with overall app usage, which grew just 33 percent.

But not all apps are created equal. A large number of apps, such as those that help you track your exercise or the calories in your meals, pose little risk to consumers. But the more ambitious apps, those that record readings of vital signs or attempt to diagnose problems, could pose considerable risk, according to a recent editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine. Recent research seems to support this view. Last year, dermatologists at the University of Pittsburgh found that Smartphone apps that evaluate moles for skin cancer risk missed threatening moles one-third of the time.

In addition, a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hypertension this summer found inaccuracies in blood pressure readings from devices taking wrist or finger measurements. One provided numbers that were too high; the other gave numbers that were too low. This can be especially problematic for patients with heart issues. “I can’t see how touching your finger to a phone would give an accurate blood pressure reading,” says Dr. Roberto Scaffidi of Bayhealth Cardiology Consultants in Dover. There are several proven ways to improve and control blood pressure: losing excess weight, exercising regularly, making healthier food choices and reducing stress. This is the area where health apps can provide the most benefit with minimal risk, says Scaffidi.

Here are some of the top health and wellness apps that can help you achieve your goals:

1) My FitnessPal (free): Features an enormous database of food, works with a huge network of other apps and devices and estimates how many calories your body burns on a typical day with no additional exercise.

2) Fig (iPhone: $1.99, Android: free): Breaks down fitness goals into categories that are easy and fun to pursue and track, including eat, move, refresh, connect, feel and go further. 

3) Fooducate (free): Offers an at-a-glance rating system for the foods you’re buying.  You also get detailed information on the ingredients and nutritional content.

4) Healthy Out (free): Eating out can be tough when you need to stick to a special diet. This app helps you find foods that fit your needs when you’re out and about.

5) Noom Walk (free): Turns your phone into a pedometer and even features a widget that allows you to see how you’re doing while you’re on-the-go.

6) Zombies, Run! (iPhone and Google Play: $3.99): Want to put some excitement in your running? Try running from zombies. This app features more than 160 adventures that you can access at home or at the gym. You can listen to your favorite music and even build your own “base camp.”

7) Carrot Fit (iPhone and iPad: $2.99): Perfect for the person who needs to be bullied into getting fit. This app features a scary trainer who will bribe and ridicule you to get you to work harder.

8) iYoga+ (free): Best yoga app for beginners. Lessons are full videos that show how to transition from pose to pose. Unfortunately, it only provides eight lessons with no chance of getting more. Nor does it allow users to customize the difficulty or speed of practice.

9) Buddhify 2 (iPhone: $2.99): Learn how to bring “mindfulness” to whatever you’re doing: driving, working or chilling out on the sofa. Don’t have an iPhone? Buddhify 2 tracks can be purchased online.

10) Universal Breathing – Pranayama (iPhone and iPad: $6.99): Stressed? Provides a simple and intuitive guide to meditative deep breathing. It features a progressive course that allows users to choose from three difficulty levels, number of breaths per minute and practice duration. Allows you to customize your routine, as well.

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