10 Popular Apps That Help Improve Your Health

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The health care your parents knew is not the health care of today. We may still have to visit a doctor at some point, but the advent of new technology has seen a huge shift in how we interact with our physicians. Many of us can now make appointments online, watch our doctors input their notes directly into a tablet, and have our prescriptions sent electronically to a pharmacy.

The health care industry is IT-focused now more than ever. Institutions are mandated to upgrade their paper systems to electronic records, decrease patient wait times for treatment, and generally ensure faster direct patient care. For busy doctors and hospitals, the most practical way for this to be achieved is via technological innovation.

Evidence that health care technology is the one of the biggest industries today is the recent news that non-medical companies such as Nintendo, Apple, and Google have all indicated interest and investment in developing health care-related products.

Back in December 2013, senior members of Apple's executive team are said to have met with the United States Food and Drug Administration. The discussions were reportedly around the introduction of a wearable device, nicknamed the iWatch, and also iOS 8, which is alleged to include an application with the working title of 'Healthbook'. In January of this year, Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata claimed the company was working on a new "quality of life' health platform, and Google is said to be developing a diabetes-focused eye device.

So what does that mean for consumers? Recent years have seen an increasing trend by individuals to take back control of their own health, but doing so must be convenient. The portability of smartphones and other devices therefore made it inevitable that medical software developers would soon provide apps that could be used on the go. Increasing industry investments means more innovation will happen, and that can only mean more great health software and hardware choices in the future.

Here are 10 of the most popular and upcoming medical apps that work across most current smartphone platforms:

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10 MapMyFitness (iOS, Android, WP8, Blackberry)

For those keen to track all of their fitness activities in one place, MapMyFitness is a good choice of tool. By using the built-in GPS in a smartphone, the application allows users to keep a log of their workouts, including information such as pace, speed, duration, and records of running routes they might have taken.

Those wanting to check previous activity can review usage history. There's even a social networking component for sharing fitness activities with friends and family using email, Facebook, or Twitter. Fans of the app will be pleased to know that there are other great 'MapMy' apps available.

9 WebMD (iOS, Android)

Many people regularly use the WebMD website when they are seeking medical information. As a natural extension of that site there is now a WebMD app. Whether looking to access drug and treatment information, check symptoms, identity medication you are going to take or are taking, WedMD is designed to provide information that is both valuable and trusted.

Also included in this application is a guide to the essentials of First Aid and local health provider listings for US-based users. Related apps include ones for babies, for pain and also an award-winning app, Medscape, for health care professionals.

8 Runtastic (iOS, Android, WP8, Blackberry)

Available on all platforms, Runtastic is a popular application that is part of a larger suite of products and services offered by the Austrian-based company. Available in 18 languages, Runtastic offers fitness enthusiasts GPS tracking, charts to measure speed, elevation and heart rate; map view, history and also multi-user capability.

Upgrading to the Pro version allows users to enjoy the Voice Coach feature and, depending on which smartphone platform they’re using, options such as geotagging, workouts, weather information, and an integrated music player. Related apps include Wintersports, Mountain Bike, Pedometer and the latest app addition, Runtastic Six Pack.

7 Lark (iOS)

Sleep deprivation affects millions worldwide every year according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, affecting productivity and revenue. Lark Technologies makes wearable and mobile technology, borne out of the founder's own experiences of not getting enough sleep.

Lark is a wristband and app combo. The wristband is designed to track sleep patterns and movements to calculate the length and type of sleep users are getting. Instead of waking wearers with a loud alarm, they’re given a gentle wake-up by vibration while Bluetooth connectivity sends the data collected to your mobile device. Lark can also help with diet tracking, and there are two other Lark products also available.

6 MyFitnessPal (iOS, Android, WP8, Blackberry)

A free smartphone and website app, MyFitnessPal is rated one of the best free applications for helping dieters track their weight loss and progress, according to Consumer Reports in 2013. With access to a large searchable nutrition and food database of over three million items, the app not only lets users count calories and keep a food diary, but it also remembers what they’ve eaten, making it even easier to track meals.

Users can also personalize their diet profile and easily sync between the mobile app and the website, should they wish to do so. The app works across all mobile platforms.

5 I'm Expecting (iOS, Android)

Developed by MedHelp in partnership with GEhealthymagination, the online health community group started in 1994, I'm Expecting is an app to help expectant mothers keep track of symptoms, doctor's appointments, tests, and also pregnancy weight. By entering the baby's due date, mums-to-be can begin tracking their pregnancy immediately, getting weekly updates on body changes and the baby, as well as connecting with other pregnant mums for support and advice.

A nice feature of the app for iPhone users is called the 'Baby Bump', which allows users to add photos of their pregnancy into a slideshow.

4 Noom Walk (iOS, Android)

The Noom Walk app acts as a pedometer, tracking steps throughout the day. What makes it different from similar apps on the market is that it doesn't use GPS, and so is less of a drain on a smartphone’s battery life. According to Noom, users can count their steps for 24 hours, yet only around 3% of the battery life will have been used. Add in some social media features and the app is ideal for those who just want to improve their health through walking.

The latest Noom app is Weight Loss Coach, and as the company is receiving heavy investment dollars now, watch out for more apps joining these very soon.

3 Lift (iOS, Android)

For those who need motivation for any goal they have in mind, Lift might be the health application to beat. Built for iPhone, this is more of a holistic app that helps people achieve their human potential. With an Angel investment team including coach and author Tony Robbins, among others, the app is designed to encourage its users to run that marathon, write that book, or get in shape.

Some of the features included are steps and milestones that can be checked off as progress is made, coaching and optional reminders, and the benefit of a community of like-minded people with whom users can connect for support and additional learning.

2 CycleNav Smart Bike Navigator (iOS, Android)

Billed as the world's first 'appcessory', this product marks American bike maker Schwinn’s first entry into the mobile technology arena. The company unveiled its CycleNav Smart Bike Navigator app earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. A smart bike unit that is attached to the bike's handlebars works with Bluetooth connectivity, making it truly an app 'on the go'.

Riders can choose their route or create a customized one, record statistics from any journey, and share that information via social networking. While en route, the app will offer audio commands and visual light indicators which make the app completely hands-free.

1 Luminosity (iOS)

Developed by neuroscientists, Luminosity is a hugely popular iPhone app and is designed to shed light on how the human brain functions. Part of a larger scientific project by scientists, clinicians and educators, the app comprises various brain exercises that are offered to challenge memory, attention, speed, problem-solving and flexibility. Over time, the app will display scores so that it is easy to follow progress and determine if users are improving or not.

Currently available online too, where it is used by over 50 million people across 182 countries, the app provides over 40 games and is for people of all ages.

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