Flip to the Google Play store and you’ll get lost in a sea of health apps—there are over 165,000 of them to help you stay healthy or monitor a medical condition. It’s no wonder only about three dozen ever get downloaded, according to a new study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The good news? Some of these apps, like the ones below, are making a real difference by encouraging self-awareness and visible improvements in physical health.

uBiome

A tiny scoop of your poop and the uBiome iPhone app are all you need to assess your microbiome (as well as participate in a global study). Order your testing kit from uBiome, swab some poop off your toilet paper and mail the sample to them. Then, take their health and lifestyle survey and the company will send you a report. You’ll see how your microbiome compares to others who’ve completed the test. If you’re really into it, you can submit samples periodically to track your own microbe data. This information will be shared with research partners around the world, states uBiome.

What exactly is this all about? The healthy human microbiome is composed of trillions of food-digesting microbes that perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins. Studies have linked the microbiome to human mood and behavior, as well as gut health, human development and metabolic disorders. The uBiome app aims to show how microbiomes differ among people with different lifestyles (e.g. Paleo) and characteristics (e.g. smoker). By seeing how you compare to various groups, you can gain a better sense of your vulnerability to certain disorders associated with the microbiome.

The app is free to download. The first 1,000 users get a uBiome kit free; the rest will have to pay for kits ($89 to $399) at a 50 percent discount. There’s also a subscription discount for monthly kits.

Hello Heart

If high blood pressure and other heart risks are your concerns, meet Hello Heart. This is the first clinically tested mobile app designed to help people make lifestyle choices that improve their numbers, according to the company. Plug your numbers into the app, and if it identifies high blood pressure or pre-hypertension, it will suggest ”baby step” lifestyle changes that are easy to implement but have a big cumulative impact on your cardiovascular health. A physician-facing app called Hello Doctor has been synced with Hello Heart so your doctor can see your progress (or lack thereof).

In a company-sponsored study, one out of four users reduced their blood pressure by 20+ points using the app, which cut their relative risk of heart attack by 50 percent, according to risk statistics. 

MyFitnessPal's Calorie Counter

Millions of people have lost weight with MyFitnessPal's free calorie counter, states the company’s home page. With this app, you get free access to the world's largest nutrition and calorie database that contains over five million foods.

According to MyFitnessPal, the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to simply keep track of the foods you eat (as many studies have proven). Gimmicky machines and fad diets don't work, so they designed a free website and a mobile app that make calorie counting and food tracking easy. The app also features a recipe counter to track homemade meals and an exercise tracker to see how many calories are burned in a day’s time. Lots of recipes are featured on the website, as well as a community section with over 10 groups. 

View from your computer or smartphone, which sync automatically to keep your diary up to date.

Endomondo

A “personal trainer in your pocket,” Endomondo is a smartphone app and social fitness network that allows users to track their fitness and health statistics in multiple sports. The app tracks your duration, distance, pace, speed, route, calories burned and more. Endomondo has long been a favorite fitness trainer for runners, cyclists and other sports enthusiasts, says a review in PC magazine.

The basic version is free. Premium Endomondo members (from $5.99 per month) get coaching during runs and over many weeks of training.

But wait, there’s more…

This is just a handful of health apps now available. In addition to fitness/diet apps, some are designed for specific medical conditions, like TouchChat, which aims to help patients with autism, Down syndrome or other conditions communicate.

Health-app use is shifting from being a novelty to a core part of care for many people. “We’re clearly moving in that direction,” Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, told U.S. News & World Report. He also stated that doctors and other care providers are taking an interest in using apps to help patients, but concerns about a lack of research and data protection are limiting wider use of the technology.

Have you used any health apps and, if so, can you directly attribute them to any improvements in your health or well-being?

Sources:

  1. US News & World Report: Health care apps top 165,000; most popular focus on fitness, well being
  2. IMSHealth: Patient Adoption of mHealth
  3. Story of Digital Health by Paul Sonnier
  4. uBiome
  5. BuzzFeed
  6. Hello Heart
  7. MyFitnessPal
  8. PC: Endomondo Review