By John Bobey
We can hear it already: “Please, not another app.” We get it—most of us have more cute icons with clever names taking up screen after screen than we know what to do with. But hear us out—there are a lot of reasons to add the iPhone Health app to your digital tool box.
The Health app is free. In fact, it's already on your iPhone, and it can can help you monitor a few key aspects of healthy living with just a little bit of setup. The best part: Most of this tracking is done in the background and requires minimal time and attention, so you spend more time doing the things that make you healthy, and less time staring at a screen.
Here are a few of the basics to get the Health app working for you:
Activity: Sit Less. Move More.
Many people don’t realize they've already been putting the Health app to use. When you carry your iPhone in your pocket, you’re also carrying a pedometer that tracks your steps, walking and running distance, and flights of stairs climbed throughout the day.
When you open the Health app you'll see your data organized into four cards that cover four general areas of health: Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition, Sleep. Tap on the Activity card and see how many steps you've taken today. We now know the dangers of sitting at a desk for hours on end, and most experts recommend taking at least 10,000 steps per day as a bare minimum of physical activity. The Health app can help you make sure you’re reaching that magic number.
You can also sync data, such as workout hours and running/cycling distance, from other fitness apps like Strava (join the Myles Run Club on Strava while you're at it), C25K, and StrongLifts. You can also connect devices like heart monitors and fitness trackers over bluetooth. The app keeps track of everything in one place. Just tap the Sources and tab at the bottom of the screen to see the apps and devices currently available to provide data.
Another hidden helpful feature is the ability to store your critical medical information, such as your blood type, allergies and prescription medications. You can even make this information accessible to first responders on your lockscreen in case of emergency. Just go to the Medical ID tab at the bottom right, tap edit, input your information, and make "Show When Locked" is turned on.
Nutrition: Eat real food and mind the amount.
How can a pint of ice cream not be a serving size? Who really puts a quarter of the pint in a bowl? Why don’t pints come with spoons attached the way straws do on juice boxes?
These are not questions that will be answered in the nutrition area of the Health app, but you can track not only your total calories, but where your calories are coming from, from carbs to selenium. The goal here is to use the data to make better nutrition choices, and a bunch of complementary nutrition tracking apps like Lifesum and Yummly can integrate with the Health app and help.
Sleep: Set A Bed And Wakeup Time.
Instead of falling to sleep (an activity that sounds accidental), this area of the app helps you monitor and take control of your sleep patterns. By regulating your sleep cycle and being consistent (the hallmark of any successful long-term plan), you will feel more rested. Use your iPhone’s Clock app to set a bedtime and wake up alarm. It will automatically sync with the Health app to monitor your nightly patterns. Check it at the end of the week to see how those 5 and 6 hour nights add up to a a very tired Friday. Other apps like Sleep Cycle (which we’ve reviewed here) and track and sync more detailed information like quality of sleep once you make them part of your bedtime routine.
Mindfulness: Quiet your mind. Relax your body. Be in the moment.
If you’d rather increase your reps than contemplate your navel, relax, this area isn’t all about meditation, even though an ever-increasing number of the most innovative amongst us incorporate some variety of daily meditation practice. Being mindful is as simple as realizing that you need to STOP every once in a while and find some literal and figurative peace and quiet. Take a walk, grab some tea, or simply take 10 minutes to find your bearings (here are a few other suggestions for making mindfulness part of your routine). This area of the app is where you can track your Mindful Minutes, with lots of help from complimentary apps like Headspace and Calm (we compared some of our favorites here), to fully appreciate the value of just…doing…nothing.
It was noted author and business thinker Peter Drucker who said, “What gets measured, gets managed,” and those words are even more salient today as the opportunities to do, watch, listen to and enjoy more of everything than ever before haven't added one second to the day. It’s still just 24 hours, but by keeping tabs on what we’re doing during those hours—good or bad—at least we have better information on where we can make adjustments. Like all the ones and zeros of our digital world, the iOS Health app is merely a tool, but one that’s handy and easy to use. Plus, by letting you sync with apps you may already know and love, you can assess your progress all in one place, and stay connected to others who help you remain engaged and inspired.
John Bobey is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles whose work includes The Today Show, Huffington Post, Saturday Night Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman. He can be reached at email@example.com.