With the impending launch of the Apple Watch, the iOS 8 Health app is about to come into its own. The long-awaited wearable will sync up to the iPhone and provide all of the movement and heart rate data required to build up a comprehensive picture of your health and fitness on an easy to view Dashboard.
However, as you probably know, the Apple Health app already plays nice with a host of the most popular fitness trackers and connected devices already on the market.
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If you own a Jawbone, Nike or Misfit device (among others), then it can synced to Apple Health through that tracker's companion app.
Through Apple's HealthKit API, the Health app also syncs up with various third-party apps and devices that keep tabs on your movement, sleep, weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, nutrition, body temperature and reams of other quantifiable data.
Truth be told, you don't even need a wearable or additional smart device to get moderate use from Apple Health, thanks to the iPhone's own motion sensors, GPS tech and M-series co-processor.
You'll be able to glean data about your steps, calories burned, distance, and flights of stairs climbed just through carrying your iPhone on your person.
Here's our guide to using Apple Health.
The Health App Dashboard
When you open the app, you'll see a series of graphs tracking your numbers and the ability to see them over Day, Week, Month and Year.
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Tapping a data point like 'Distance' will enable you to show all data, manually add a data point, share it back to other sources or remove it from the dashboard.
Using Health with a device
While Apple Health can work autonomously for iPhone owners, it does rely on folks carrying their iPhone with them every step of the way. If you leave it on the desk when you pop to the restroom, it won't count the steps you took, the distance you travelled or the flights you climbed.
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For a more complete picture, Health works best when synced to another fitness tracker or smartwatch you're always wearing (or a connected device like a heart rate sensor or smart scale) via that device's companion app.
There are reams of apps already able to pair with Health thanks to Apple's HealthKit API.
For example, every time you use a Withings Smart Body Analyzer scale, Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor or Aura Smart Sleep System that information is reported sent back to the Withings Health Mate app via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you want this data to be fed to Apple Health, you'll need to enable it as a source.
Using Health with an app
If you've been using an app like MapMyFitness or RunTracker for years, the Apple Health app will helpfully also import historical data too.
This process will differ slightly for each app, but here are some examples:
- For Withings Health Mate go to Menu > Profile and toggle the Health switch to On.
- For UP by Jawbone head to Menu > Help & Settings > Health Access and toggle the switch on or off.
- If you're using a standalone fitness app on your iPhone, like Endomondo you can go to Menu > Settings > Connect & Share > Health > Connect with Health.
Once the app is enabled, you'll see it listed under Sources in the Health app. From there you'll be able to automatically receive and also share manually inputted information back to those sources.
Editing the Dashboard
The idea behind the Dashboard is to quickly show the information most relevant to you without having to delve further into the app. So it makes perfect sense you can easily add and remove categories depending on your goals.
So, for example, if you're particularly concerned with monitoring your Caffeine intake you can browse to Health Data > Nutrition > Caffeine > Show In Dashboard.
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Likewise if you wish to see metrics like Active Calories, Resting Calories, Resting Heartrate Cycling Distance, Body Fat Percentage, Sleep Analysis and everything in between.
There's so many to choose from, it's probably wise to keep the number of statistics on the Dashboard limited.
Manually adding data
There are two ways to add data to the Health app, The first is automatically via connected devices and apps, such as the Apple Watch. The second is manually. While it's preferable and more convenient to use automatic syncing, there are some occasions when manually adding metrics is unavoidable.
For example, if you're tracking your asthma 'Inhaler Usage', that has to be added manually. Just find the metric within Health Data tab and tap Add Data Point. This also works if you've been out for a run without your synced device and want to add the distance manually.
Tracking sleep using Apple Health
Here's the thing; the Apple Watch doesn't include a sleep tracker. So, you'll need to use another wearable or a Healthkit-enabled sleep tracking app in order to bring your sleep data into the Health app.
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Every fitness tracker worth its salt is able to measure your sleep quality through movement levels (Jawbones Misfits and Garmin Vivofits to name a few), while apps like Sleep Time+ (which relies on placing your iPhone under your pillow at night) will also feed data back to Health.
Tracking nutrition using Apple Health
Tracking everything we eat using mobile apps can be a real pain and manually adding metrics like Sodium intake using the Nutrition section of the Apple Health is even less appealing.
However if you use an app like Weight Watchers to record your food or UP Coffee to measure your caffeine intake, these apps can also send data back to Apple Health if added as sources.
The foods you add will sync nutritional information like protein, fat, carbs and sodium as well as the less-mentioned categories (there are 38 in total) like potassium, magnesium and, erm… copper.
The ability to set up a Medical ID using the Health app could potentially save your life.
Selecting this tab at the foot of the app enables you to input your vital stats, add medical conditions, allergies, medications, an emergency contact, blood type and your organ donor status.
If you enable Emergency Access a third party will be able to access the profile from the iPhone's lock screen. Once enabled, swipe to unlock from the Homescreen, tap Emergency and select Medical ID from the dialler menu.
Apple Health and your doctors
If used regularly, the Apple Health app provide keen users with the greatest array of quantifiable health data ever, hopefully leading to greater education, identification of trends, better choices and changes in lifestyle that can lead to longer and healthier lives.
The relatively new idea of the 'Quantified Self' enables users to establish real correlations between, for example, greater exercise levels and improved sleep and gives easy access them the numbers to back it up.
However, it is hoped Health can have also great impact on our medical care too. Plans are afoot to enable users to share the data collected by Health with their medical practitioners. It could lead to earlier diagnoses, better preventative prescriptions and a greater understanding of conditions.
It's also handy for users thanks to the Results section of the Health app. If iPhone users have regular blood work, for example, they can input the data as they receive it from their healthcare professional and keep track of it over time.
Doing your bit with ResearchKit
At its recent Spring Forward launch event, Apple announced ResearchKit, which enables Apple Health users to contribute their amassed data to for the purposes of medical research.
One of the first of those, a cardiovascular study at Stanford University, received 11,000 sign-ups within the first 24 hours. The researchers claimed it would have taken them over a year to amass that viable data, so it's a potentially huge leap forward.
There are already apps available on the App Store allowing you to contribute to research that may help the fight against Parkinson's, diabetes, asthma and breast cancer too. Just search ResearchKit on the App Store to find them. Some will require you to take tests, while others will seek to collect your data from Health.
Apple is adamant that all data remains anonymous.