Top Apps for Better Health

Counting calories. Tracking your workouts. Managing a chronic condition. Monitoring your sleep patterns. Yes, there are apps for all of that. While they aren’t a substitute for professional medical advice, mobile apps can help us monitor our health and meet our goals. Here are a few top apps getting the nod from experts:

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WebMD (free, available for Android and Apple devices)

Designed by medical experts for those of us who don’t have a medical degree, this app brings WebMD’s most popular features to an app — including a Symptom Checker, information about various conditions, a data base of drugs and treatments and a pill identification tool where you can check out a medication based on its size, colour and imprint.

If you don’t have internet access on the go, the app’s First Aid Essentials guide is available offline. We hope you never need to use it, but it’s a handy reference for first aid treatment from everything from insect bites to broken bones.

Sleep Cycle alarm clock (available for Apple devices)

What if your alarm clock could monitor your sleep cycles and avoid waking you out of a deep sleep? Your device’s accelerometers — technology which measures movement and gravity — can make getting up a little more pleasant. Place your device on the corner of your bed and the accelerometer tracks your movements to determine what sleep cycle you’re in. Wake up during the lightest sleep cycle to your choice of alarm sounds or music from your collection.

Even if you don’t use the alarm, the app registers your sleep quality throughout the night and lets you incorporate notes about things that may affect your rest — such as drinking coffee or extra stress at work. You can monitor your sleep over a long period of time and download the data to a spreadsheet for further analysis.

RunKeeper (available for Android and Apple devices)

Don’t let the name fool you: the app is isn’t just for runners — it’s designed for people who walk, hike and cycle too. Using the GPS in your mobile device, the app tracks not only your route but your pace, distance and time. Built-in audio cues keep you updated on your progress, and you can make use of your device’s sensors to track your heart rate. You can share your pictures and stats with friends through Facebook and Twitter too.

Of course, the app isn’t just about the workout — you can track your progress over the long-term as well. You’ll be able to see your history and stay up-to-date on your goals. The app also integrates with dozens of other apps such as Garmin and Fitbit.

iFitness Pro (available for Apple devices)

Think of this best-selling app as a personal trainer in your pocket. The app has instructions for hundreds of exercises — including pictures and videos when needed — and boasts an “exercise builder” tool to help you create a custom routine. If you’re not sure how to start, try one of the 25 expert-designed routines to get you going.

The app lets you record your exercises, see your progress on a graph and back up your results to your email account. Best of all, you can share with a spouse or family member — the app can handle multiple users.

Another highly-rated app with similar functions is Fitness Buddy (available for Apple devices).

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Instant Heart Rate (available for Android and Apple devices)

Forget placing your fingers on a pulse point and counting! You may not be able to see it, but the light shining through your fingers changes as blood vessels expand and contract with every heartbeat. When you cover your device’s camera with your finger, the app turns these subtle changes into information you can see on screen — rather like a heart monitor you’d see in a clinic.

If you’re using an older device, be aware that you’ll need to stay still and have enough ambient light. The app works best with newer devices.

MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker (available for Blackberry, Android, Windows and Apple devices)

The principle behind this app is simple: track what you eat and how much you eat to stay within calorie intake recommendations — and ultimately lose weight. Rather than carrying around a notebook and a pen, simply enter your food choices into your mobile device. The app boasts the largest database of foods and monitors other indicators like fat, protein and sugars. It even calculates numbers for your homemade recipes.

As with other apps, you can track your progress, set customized goals and connect with family and friends for extra motivation. The app syncs with the website — — for even more community-based features and reporting.

Lose it! (available for Android and Apple devices)

If you’re looking to juggle both diet and exercise, this app does it all. You can journal what you eat, create meal plans, share recipes and use the barcodes to enter items. If you forget to log a meal, the app will send you a reminder too.

The app also lets you log your exercise information and share exercises with friends through additional features on its website. Another bonus: you don’t have to be connected to the internet to use this app.

Foodscanner ( iPhone)

Looking for an easier way to track foods on your phone than entering them manually? Using the camera in your phone, this apps lets you can scan the bar code on most food products to tabulate your daily calorie count and nutrients. (For foods that don’t have a barcode — such as fresh produce and meats — you can enter the name instead.) You can then enter the number of servings and the app will keep a running total of your day.

If you can’t find a food you want, you can upload the information, UPC code and a picture. The app also syncs with other app offerings from the company Daily Burn — including a workout app to track your exercise routine.


Fooducate (available for Android and Apple devices, U.S. only)

Want the nutritional scoop on the foods you plan to buy that goes beyond the labels? Fooducate uses the camera in your phone to scan the barcodes on foods. The app uses a letter grading system from D to A to evaluate foods at a glance — “B” being “better than average”.  The app also gives you useful tidbits to help with your dietary decisions, such as “more than 10 per cent of your daily fibre”, a warning about added sugars and “FoodPoints value” for dieters.

If you’re not living or shopping in the U.S., you can still check out some of your favourite foods on its website

Apps for specific conditions

Whether you want to record your symptoms, keep track of appointments and treatments or keep tabs on your lifestyle, there are now apps available for just about any condition. While there are too many to include in one article, here are a few examples:

WebMD Pain Coach lets your rate your pain each day so you can spot trends and identify pain triggers.

Asthmasense allows you to set reminders for medication or peak flow tests and helps you track your symptoms.

– Many glucose monitoring systems work with a diabetes management app, or you can try an app such as bant to record your readings.

– Ringful Health’s Healthy Heart app lets you track high blood triggers while apps like My Heart&Stroke Health App include risk assessment, an action plan and searchable database of recipes.

Mole Detective employs your device’s camera to photograph and analyze moles for potential problems.

Remember, health apps aren’t meant to be replace real people. Experts say you should still talk to your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and before making any changes to your treatment, diet or exercise routine. Apps can be customized, but they can’t give you the specialized attention that a physiotherapist or personal trainer can if you’re living with chronic conditions.

Which apps do you use for health and fitness? Feel free to add your recommendations to this list in the comments.

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