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Illustration by QASIM RAZA/Photographs © Getty Images
Illustration by QASIM RAZA/Photographs © Getty Images

Keeping Healthy While Staying Mobile

Want to keep track of your health with a mobile phone? Here’s how.


There may not be a mobile app for everything, but it can certainly feel that way. Health and fitness are no exception, with more than 40,000 health apps for Android and iPhones, according to Mashable, a popular news Web site. Many are free; others have prices ranging from $.99 to $2.99. According to Research2Guidance, a market research firm, more than 240 million users worldwide were expected to download a mobile health app in 2012.

That is good news, but it does raise a question: How can you pick the ones that actually deliver what they promise—especially since many apps claiming to cure specific medical conditions are probably fraudulent? (See sidebar).

Here is a selection of some top-rated mobile health and fitness apps that have been reviewed by medical experts at Time magazine, Scientific American and the Web site iMedicalApps.

 

Blood pressure

BP Monitor

This app tracks one of your health’s most vital numbers—systolic and diastolic blood pressure. BPMonitor displays all the information in colorful graphic charts for easy interpretation over shorter or longer time periods. Blood pressure can be measured in metric or U.S./British units. The app allows you to e-mail reports to doctors or other medical professionals.

$0.99 for iPhone.
Android version under development.

BPMonitor
http://www.taconicsys.com/app/bpmonitor-lite

iPhone download
http://goo.gl/J9GEA

 

Diabetes control

Glucose Buddy

Glucose Buddy is a tool for helping manage diabetes. Users can enter data concerning their glucose levels, carbohydrate intake, activity level and insulin dosage. All these data can be displayed in a variety of formats and graphic charts to see trends—and then adjust diet, exercise and medications to better manage blood sugar levels. According to its site, the app has had more than 13 million logs uploaded.

Free. Android and iPhone.

Glucose Buddy
http://www.glucosebuddy.com

Android download
http://goo.gl/gzFz7

iPhone download
http://goo.gl/pHM91

 

Fitness

Lose it

The weight loss program Lose It! recently won the U.S. Surgeon General’s challenge as the best mobile phone app in the fitness/physical activity category. “Lose It! helps users make healthy choices by setting a clear calorie budget, by permitting users to track their fitness and activity level, and by providing them insight into their nutrition,” says a description on a page dedicated to the challenge. Lose It! features a simple interface that provides access to an extensive database of foods and activities, recipes, nutrition information and a barcode scanner. You can also connect with friends and family, earn “badges” to reward success, generate progress reports, and share your information on Facebook and Twitter. According to its Web site, Lose It! users have lost more than 14 million pounds so far.

Free. Android and iPhone.

Register and download 
http://loseit.com

Cure Acne? There’s No App for That!

At a time when mobile phone apps are all the rage, it is hardly surprising that many people might fall for claims that health apps can actually treat such medical conditions as acne, persistent ringing in the ears or depression triggered by seasonal change. They can’t.

Take AcneApp, previously sold through iTunes for the iPhone at $1.99. The app company stated that when the cellphone was pressed against the face, the app’s blue light would improve skin condition. “False,” said the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which forced AcneApp and a similar product to be removed from the market.

In a recent study, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University reviewed approximately 1,500 paid health apps, and found that many claimed to be able to treat different illnesses. Several used either cellphone lights, sounds or vibrations as treatment methods—none of which could possibly work as advertised.

Some apps are potentially dangerous, according to the New England Center’s findings. The Cardiac Stress Test, for example, sold in a $3 Android version, directed users to perform 30 squats in less than a minute, then enter their heart rate into the app’s calculator to determine if they were healthy enough for vigorous exercise. This could give someone a false sense of security, says Satish Misra, a physician and managing editor with the iMedicalApps Web site. Determining someone’s cardiac health takes much more than just looking at heart rates, he notes.

A number of mobile apps exploit the deeply human capacity for wishful thinking. One such app claims to cure everything from toothache to insomnia by playing the sound of running water. Other apps offer quick fixes for everything from flabby abs to alcoholism, and even relief from pain, says The Washington Post.

None of these apps, needless to say, has the slightest scientific foundation.

Mobile apps can empower individuals with information, even provide diagnostic and planning tools. But they aren’t magic. —H.C.

 

Food and nutrition

Fooducate

With the Fooducate app, you can simply scan any of more than 200,000 barcoded items in grocery stores to get complete nutrition information without having to read a single label. Fooducate uses a formula to assign each food a health grade from A to D. The rating incorporates food factors that consumers often overlook, such as preservatives, additives, high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, food colorings and serving sizes. Users can also save a history of their product scans and share them with others.

Free. Android and iPhone.

Fooducate
http://www.fooducate.com

iPhone download 
http://goo.gl/aBT73

Android phone download
http://goo.gl/tpImk

 

Asthma control

AsthmaSense

AsthmaSense is a tool for recording asthma symptoms and severity along with medication use. You first create a user profile, then enter such information as the medicines you are taking, measurement reminders, special rescue drugs and other data. By holding the phone vertically, users can see data as a standard word entry. According to iMedical Apps, one of AsthmaSense’s best features is the ability to record when a user is experiencing symptoms, including a “wheeze rate” percentage. The goal is to manage medications properly, but also help users recognize when their asthma is uncontrolled. 

Free. Android and iPhone.

AsthmaSense
http://www.isoneamed.com

Android download
http://goo.gl/k2rOG

iPhone download
http://goo.gl/9548B

 

Sleep management

Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time

These are among a number of apps that take advantage of the smartphone’s accelerometer to track your movements and identify whether you are in deep or light sleep.

During a preset wake-up time, the phone will determine when you are in your lightest sleep phase—and wake you with gentle sounds or music. The result: you will tend to wake up feeling more rested, since you haven’t been jolted out of a deep sleep. Both apps can provide you with a graphic display of your sleep patterns.

Free for Android.
$0.99 for iPhone.

Sleep Time
Android download
http://goo.gl/RCwem

Sleep Cycle
iPhone download
http://goo.gl/zBfBG

 

Medical emergency

iTriage

When you suddenly become sick, you need quick answers to two urgent questions: “What’s wrong, and how should I be treated?”

iTriage, developed by emergency physicians, tries to answer those questions by helping to identify symptoms in different ways. One is by clicking on the body part of a three-dimensional male or female figure and then choosing from a drop-down menu of possible medical problems. The alternative is to search through extensive listings of symptoms. iTriage also offers the option of integrating your medical records with the application. According to its Web site, iTriage has been downloaded more than 7 million times.

Free.
Android, iPhone and iPad.

iTriage
https://www.itriagehealth.com

Mobile phone download
https://www.itriagehealth.com/mobile

 

Health information

WebMD
WebMD, a health information Web site, offers a variety of mobile applications.

WebMD
http://www.webmd.com

Mobile apps page
http://www.webmd.com/mobile

WebMD App 
Comprehensive health information with features like a symptom checker, listing of different medical conditions, drug and treatment database, emergency and first aid and a pill identification tool.

Free. 
Android and iPhone.

Download page
http://www.webmd.com/webmdapp

WebMD Baby
Designed to keep you and your family fully informed—and to help keep your baby healthy.

Free. 
Android and iPhone.

Download page
http://www.webmd.com/webmdbabyapp

theheart.org
One of the leading sources of information for the latest in cardiology and cardiovascular research.

Free.  iPhone only.

Download (iTunes)
http://goo.gl/8QWTD

WebMD Pain Coach 
Allows you to monitor your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10, together with treatments, mood and more. As the app states, “There isn’t an easy fix for chronic pain, but if you know what triggers to avoid and what treatments really work, you can manage your pain more effectively.”

Free.  iPhone only.

Download page
http://www.webmd.com/webmdpaincoachapp

 

Howard Cincotta is a U.S. State Department writer and editor.


 

 

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    Photograph courtesy Urban Farming
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    Photograph courtesy Urban Farming
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    Photograph courtesy Urban Farming