You don’t need a smartwatch or an activity tracker to monitor your exercise, nutrition and other health information.
By J. D. Biersdorfer
Ready to get outside this summer and get fit? Your smartphone’s hardware, its software and an app store full of programs can help lead the way. Here’s a guide on how to get the most out of your device.
Here’s to Your Health
In 2014, Apple and Google both announced dashboard apps to track personal health and wellness, and the companies have been enhancing those apps ever since.
Apple’s Health app works on iPhones and iPod Touch devices running iOS 8 and later (as well as the Apple Watch). The app invites you to set up a “health profile” with physical information and the activities and habits you’d like to track, like your sleep. You can also pull in medical records from participating health care providers and workout and diet data from third-party apps. Apple recently announced a slew of updates to Health coming this fall with iOS 15, including the ability to share your stats with family and doctors.
The Google Fit app works on the Android and iOS operating systems. (It can also import health data from Wear OS, Apple Watches and third-party apps.) In collaboration with the American Heart Association, the Google Fit helps users set activity goals to earn “Heart Points” for better cardiovascular health. This year, Google announced that the app could also use the phone’s camera to measure heart and respiratory rates for informational purposes (but not as a medical diagnosis); Google’s own Pixel phones were the first to get this function.
Both Apple Health and Google Fit include basic tools like a pedometer, which uses the phone’s motion sensor to track your steps, but fitness and food apps can provide more detailed information.
Get a New (Exercise) Routine
If you’re looking for a workout app for an exercise plan that goes beyond step-counting, you have many options. Most of the popular programs are available for both Android and iOS. These include the Jefit Workout Planner and Skimble’s Workout Trainer; both offer guides to specific exercises and routines for small subscription fees.
The Peloton app ($13 a month) offers video-driven workouts, and Google Fit has a curated list of free exercise videos on YouTube. For those planted in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple Fitness+ service is $10 a month and requires an Apple Watch with your iPhone to monitor your vital signs.
Runners and cyclists wanting to measure their progress have a variety of apps to consider. For beginners, the $3 Couch to 5K app provides a training plan for somewhat stationary newbies to work their way up to a solid running routine. Runkeeper and MapMyRun use the phone’s location services to log and trace routes; both are free with in-app purchases. Cyclemeter and Strava are also inexpensive apps that track running, cycling and more.
Keep a Food Diary
If you want to focus on dietary adjustments — eating more protein, consuming less sodium, shedding a few pandemic pounds — and don’t want to manually log food labels, consider a dedicated nutrition app. Many of these are free to download but offer in-app subscriptions for personalized diet planning, community support and other features.
Among the apps in this category, Lose It! focuses on calorie-counting and weight loss, and can share its data with Apple Health, Google Fit and other apps. Lose It! has a huge database of nutritional information for millions of items and can scan package labels to add new foods. MyFitnessPal is a similar program with a database of 11 million foods, a huge online community and the ability to sync up and share data with 50 other fitness apps and devices.
Map Your Way
Your phone’s maps app can help you get more active in general. For example, just enter “gyms near me” to see where you can get a workout, or “hiking” to find nearby trails.
Last year, both Apple Maps and Google Maps added new features for urban cyclists, including biking routes in certain cities, the location of bike-sharing docks around town and elevation information. In Google Maps for Android and iOS, you can also tap the Layers button to see Cycling routes and the Terrain — so you can really be prepared for any non-metaphorical uphill climbs on your journey.