Kagoo recently started supporting smartphones on the site, offering comprehensive details on a whole range of quality smartphones. You can browse all the latest Smartphones in our Smartphone Hub & view the best deals on our Smartphone Deals Page. To celebrate their arrival, we’re looking in depth at smartphone features - today we’re following on from our discussion about sensors and looking at smartphone health apps.
If you’ve read our article on Step Tracking, you’ll know that smartphones are very good at tracking your daily movement, allowing you to get a good idea of how much you move in a day. While interesting by itself, there is a limited amount you can do with this single isolated measurement, apart from serving as an indicator of whether you need to stand up more.
This is where smart technology really comes into its own - by integrating smart devices and sensors into your daily life, it becomes possible to track a number of different variables and consolidate them into a single app.
Health Tracking Apps
There are numerous apps available for modern smartphones that allow you to gain a holistic view of your everyday health. The philosophy is that if you have access to all your health data in a single place, it becomes far easier to track your progress, improve yourself and notice any potential problems or bad habits that turn up.
For instance the apps can track your average exercise load, mixed with your movement and diet, to see whether you are adequately taking care of your body, or whether changes need to be made. Tracking your sleep schedule and mental health over the course of months can help identify whether you may benefit from extra sleep. Some apps even allow you to share data with others, setting up challenges and competition with your friends. While gamifying your body may seem strange, there is evidence that this can improve people’s enthusiasm towards exercise and self-improvement
Unsurprisingly, the two most popular health-tracking apps are those that come as default with the majority of new phones - ‘Google Fit’ for Android phones, and ‘Apple Health’ for iPhones. There are also a number of other apps from 3rd-party companies, such as Nike, Fitbit and more. While each is subtly different, and may have different integrations or terminology, the apps are largely identical in their capabilities.
Health-tracking apps work by consolidating data from numerous different sources, including:
As we’ve mentioned, apps can use the built in sensors of a phone to track any number of metrics. While some are activated manually - telling your phone when you start a run or cycle session - others can be automatically collected throughout the day as you use your phone or carry it with you. This latter group involves measurements such as step count, sleep tracking and screen time.
Some health metrics can’t be automatically tracked, and so rely on the user to manually enter or record data. For example tracking the amount of water you drink every day, or how many cigarettes you smoke. Some of these will be entered directly into the health app, others will be gathered from 3rd-party apps.
One of the most powerful features of smartphones is the enormous collection of apps covering every aspect of health and wellness. Most of these apps will have integration that allows them to automatically record relevant data to a central health app. Examples include tracking the amount of meditation from a mindfulness program, or nutritionally details from a diet app.
Finally, tracking doesn’t have to be restricted to the phone itself. There are a number of very powerful accessories and smart devices designed to measure and track health metrics. Pedometers are a popular example of a health-tracking accessory - there are also smart-enabled scales and heart rate monitors that can record the data in your health app.
Limitations of integration
In an ideal world, all applications and accessories would work with all types of phone. Unfortunately this isn’t currently the case - due to a mixture of technical limitations, licensing issues and inter-company rivalries, some apps or devices are locked to a specific operating system or phone. For instance, the Apple Watch cannot (officially) be used with any Android devices. Conversely, Fitbit isn’t currently able to sync with the Apple Health app due to the competition between Apple and Google, who bought the company in 2020.
So what actually can these health apps be used to track? We’ve already touched on a couple of them, but let’s explore them in more detail:
Steps: We’ve already talked about step tracking - measuring the number of steps you take every day gives a ballpark figure of how much you move everyday. While 10k steps every day is the commonly-repeated figure, studies place the optimal number at 5,000-7,500.
Exercise: While step tracking is passive, smartphones also allow you to track specific exercises as you undertake them - whether it’s a short run or a long bike ride. To allow for maximum accuracy, these usually have to be manually triggered. This is due to the unique algorithm used to measure each activity - the system measures your motion/speed/etc differently for a cycle compared to when you’re running or using a rowing machine. Using specially tailored algorithms, it can then track the distance, impact and energy/calorie burn of your exercise. Such activities can also be added retrospectively - if you forget to start measuring before your session - but they won’t be quite as accurate.
Heart Rate: Heart rate is important to monitor - it is a good indicator of the health of your heart, and irregularities with heart rate can be a sign of illness or disease. While a small number of smartphones have a heart rate monitor built in, the majority of consumer heart rate monitors are built into smart watches. The latest Apple Watch, for example, has electrocardiogram functionality, allowing it to monitor the health of your heart for any potentially serious irregularities.
Blood Pressure: Much like heart rate, blood pressure can be an indicator of your overall health level, and a warning of potential problems. An accurate blood pressure test requires an external accessory - there are a number of smart-enabled blood pressure monitors on the market already.
Weight: Weight is an important measurement - not only for the overall health of your body, but it also is used for the calculations of other step/exercise tracking algorithms. In most cases this will have to be added manually, though there are some smart-enabled scales that are capable of automatically uploading the data to your health app.
Menstrual Cycle Tracking: Health apps can be used to track the stages of your menstrual cycle, allowing you to identify any irregularities, and estimate which days the cycle will fall on.
Screen Time: It’s not healthy to stare at a screen for too long - over-exposure to blue light has been shown to impact sleep, and may affect the health of your eyes. By monitoring the amount of time you look at your phone every day, you can see whether it is a problem you need to address. Activating a night mode function may also help.
You may track as many or few of these metrics as you require - the good thing about smartphone health apps is they are entirely customisable, so your phone will only track what you ask it to, and nothing more. However, it is important to note that while this data can be extremely helpful, it is no substitute for proper medical advice and healthy living. Quantifying every element of your life can help identify problem areas, but it means nothing unless you put in the work to fix them!
The Future of Health Apps
As we finish, let’s look to the future. Right now smart technology is just beginning to be accepted into everyday life - smartphones are the norm, and smart-enabled houses are more frequent. It’s not too much of a jump to see a move towards more interconnection between our house, our wider community and our selves. For instance, a smart-enabled fridge may track what is taken out of it, and use that to extrapolate your diet, allowing for better calorie tracking in everything you eat. A smart-enabled bed can provide detailed sleep data, sent to your phone for analysis. In emergencies, your phone and watch could detect abnormalities in your body, and send a warning to emergency services - with your smart home unlocking the door to allow entry. The speculative sky is the limit - there are a lot of amazing things smart technology can do to improve our tracking of human health!