Tech for your connected self

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know

The Health app is a complex beast - here’s how to get the best from it

Apple has continually revised its Health app since it first debuted back in 2014. It now collects more pieces of data, it works with more sources of data and even plays nice with the Apple Watch. It's even become a place to store your health records.

The app is your health hub. All your health and fitness data comes together in one place, drawing from your phone, your watch, your fitness trackers, your sleep trackers and your fitness apps. The idea is to collect all this information and offer you a quick snapshot of what you've done, so you don't have to open up a bunch of different apps.

Read next: What your Apple Watch Activity Rings say about you

You don't even need a wearable to use it, as it'll suck data from your iPhone's onboard motion sensors and GPS. From here, you'll be able to see how many miles you walked, floors you climbed, steps you've counted and calories you've burned.

HealthKit, Apple's API, allows third-party health apps like Garmin Connect, Nike+ Run Club, MyFitnessPal, Strava and more to contribute all kinds of metrics to Apple Health. This can be nutrition information, activity information, body temperature, blood pressure, glucose and much, much more.

While it's now a lot easier to use, it can also be a complicated beast. So we've put together a guide to help you get the most out of Apple's Health app.

Health Data

How to use Apple Health on your iPhone: Everything you need to know

The main dashboard for Apple Health is called Health Data and breaks down your health into four key areas: Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition and Sleep. The benefit here is that it lets you dive right into the area you're most interested in.

Tapping on each category will take you to a new screen that breaks down your latest recorded data. For example, if you've been tracking your food you'll get a breakdown of your diet; you'll be able to see how much calcium, carbs, sugar, fiber, iron and more that you've ate.

You can then choose a singular category, like calcium, and see how much you've eaten that day, month and year. Apple also leverages the app store to constantly recommend apps that may help you. On the calcium page, for instance, there'll be recommendations for apps that are good at tracking calcium. In the Sleep page, there'll be apps for helping you track sleep. Keep an eye out for them.

See also: The best Apple Watch apps

If you're not quite sure what a certain category means, at the bottom there's a little explainer of what that metric means and why it's important. For example, in the Activity section of the app under the floors climbed category, Apple will give you the measurements that constitute a climbed floor (a flight of stairs is about 10 feet tall, or 3 meters).

Each category also has a little video explaining what it's about and why you should care. These are short videos that you probably won't watch more than once, but they're well made and offer a good job of trying to pique your interest.

Finally, beneath the four main groups on the landing page you'll have secondary data, including your body measurements, vitals, health records, reproductive health, vitals and something called Results - we'll come back to these later.

Using Health with Apple Watch

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know

While Apple Health can work autonomously for iPhone owners, that methord relies on folks carrying around their iPhones every step of the way. If you leave it on a desk when you pop over to the restroom, it won't count the steps you took, the distance you traveled or the flights you climbed. And if you didn't track it, did you really do it?

When Health is synced up to a fitness tracker or smartwatch it gives you a much more comprehensive picture of your day's (and in some cases, night's) activity. Thankfully, HealthKit allows Apple Health to suck in data from services like Garmin Connect, Wahoo Fitness, Mi Fit, and more. Once you opt into sharing your data with Apple Health, it's all done automatically.

Wareable picks: The top fitness trackers

Having an Apple Watch does save you a step, however. All your data just funnels right into Apple Health (in addition to the Activity app, which you can use to close those rings). You can check out all the data directly from your Watch by heading over to the Sources menu at the bottom of the Health app.

Once in the Sources section of the app, scroll to the bottom - below the apps, we'll get to those in a bit - and check out the devices feeding Health with information. Click on your Apple Watch and you'll get a breakdown of all the information your smartwatch is feeding to Health.

You'll be able to see your VO2 Max taken from your Apple Watch, your active energy, your resting energy, your stand hours, your resting heart rate, your walking heart rate average and your heart rate variability. Oh, if you take on the Apple Watch's breathing reminders, those will show up in the Mindfulness section of the app.

These metrics are all more easily gleamed from the Health Data section of the app, but the Sources page is a good look at what exactly your Apple Watch brings to Apple Health.

Just keep in mind that if you want third-party devices to feed data into Apple Health, you'll need to enable it within those devices' companion apps. There's usually a prompt during device setup. Speaking of apps...

Using Health with an app

If you're using an app like Runtastic or Lifesum for years, you won't need to stop. Health can pull in that data and integrate it into your overall health picture automatically (this includes historical data). However, just like the devices, you'll need to make sure they're talking to each other by allowing Apple Health access to your chosen apps.

The process differs for each app, but they usually ask straight-up while you're setting them up. If you forgot or didn't even think about using Apple Health before, the toggle should be buried in the app's settings menu.

Once you have granted access, you can head to the Sources section of the Health app. If you choose an app source, you'll be greeted with a bevy of options. You can pick and choose what data you want to share with Apple Health, or you can toggle the entire service off. It all depends on how much you want to share.

In the specific app page in Health, there's also a little Data menu near the bottom. If you click that, you'll be whisked off to a screen that breaks down the data you've gained from that app. Here, you'll be able to delete any data you believe to be erroneous.

Finding the right apps

How to use Apple Health on your iPhone: Everything you need to know

As mentioned before, there are a lot of apps that tap into the HealthKit API. You know how to get them talking, you know you can use them, but how the heck are you supposed to find the right apps to use?

Well, the easiest way is to just choose one of the four categories in Health Data and scroll down. You'll see a list of recommended apps for each category. For Nutrition, recommendations include LifeSum, Yummly, Lose It! and more.

Editing your data

How to use Apple Health on your iPhone: Everything you need to know

Health Data is meant to offer a quick glimpse of all the information that's most relevant to you without having to delve further into the app. But what if it's missing some piece of data? What if you accidentally lost your Bluetooth connection or you forgot to add that chicken wing to your meal?

You can actually add (and delete) data from Health. Now, this stuff is pretty buried because the idea of Health is that it sucks in information on its own and automatically presents it to you in an easy-to-digest way, but it's still possible. All you have to do is go to that data point.

For instance, if you wanted to add resting energy you'd have to click into Activity, then click Resting Energy then click the + sign in the top right corner. You'll then be able to add your kcals alongside a time and date. It's the same for Nutrition, Mindfulness or Sleep. You just go to the specific metric and tap the + button.

By the way, in each of the data points' dedicated screens, there's an "Add to Favorites" toggle. Click that and it'll zoom up to the top of the category page it's associated with. So if you generally track nutritional information but you're looking to keep track of your protein, it's up at the top for even easier access.

Tracking sleep using Apple Health

The Apple Watch doesn't include a sleep tracking feature yet, not until its battery life is long enough to go two days. Until then, you'll have to find alternative ways to use Apple Health to track your sleep.

The simplest way is your iPhone, and it's actually built in. In your phone's Clock app is a feature called Bedtime. You set your bedtime and then the phone will send you a notification when it's time to go to sleep. You also set up a wake up, and your phone will wake you up. If you pick up your phone, it'll log that in as awake time.

Read this: Best sleep trackers and monitors

It's... very basic, but alternatively, you can wear an Apple Health-compatible fitness tracker, like the Huawei Band 2 Pro, to get some good sleep metrics into Apple Health. If you want to get a little more detailed, there are also devices like the Beddit 3 and Sleepscore Max sleep trackers.

There are also a number of good iPhone apps that can track your sleep, including Sleep Cycle, which relies on placing your iPhone under your pillow at night, or Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which listens to your snores to analyze your sleep. All this data feeds right into Health and into the Today and Health Data tabs.

It's worth nothing that there are a few apps out there for the Watch, including Sleep++, but we'd recommend going for a more equipped sleep tracking device if you can.

Setting up your Medical ID

How to use Apple Health on your iPhone: Everything you need to know

Medical ID allows first responders to quickly get vital information about you right from your phone. It's one of the four main options in the Health app, and when you're adding your blood type, allergies, conditions, and more, there'll be a toggle at the top to make it easy to access when your phone is locked.

Turning this on can be useful for emergency situations, so it's a good idea to at least consider it. To view Medical ID, they'll have to try to unlock your iPhone. Then they'll have to click "Emergency" and then "Medical ID".

You can also add emergency contacts, who will automatically receive a message when you use Emergency SOS. They'll also receive your location so they know where you are.

You can activate Emergency SOS on your Apple Watch by pressing and holding the side button. A countdown will begin and emergency services will be contacted. On the iPhone, you hold down the side button and one volume button - a siren will alarm and a countdown will begin.

At the bottom of the Medical ID page, there's an option to sign up as an organ donor with Donate Life America. Your information will go directly to Donate Life, not Apple. It's something to think about.

Tracking nutrition using Apple Health

How to use Apple Health on your iPhone: Everything you need to know

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 like potassium, magnesium, all the important vitamins and, erm… copper.

As mentioned before, what's really helpful is that for every piece of nutritional information, you'll actually get an explanation of each nutrient is important and will suggest, where available, the compatible Apple Health apps that are able to track that information.

Apple Health and your doctor

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know

If used regularly, the Apple Health app can provide keen users with a huge array of quantifiable health data, hopefully leading to greater education, identification of trends, better choices and changes in lifestyle that can lead to longer and healthier lives. Or at least that's the idea.

But it's also going to be good news for our doctors, as this technology is starting to provide information they can use - and a way for us to store the information they give us.

Remember the Results section on the main Health Data page, which we mentioned earlier? This is where you can put in results from tests you've done with your doctor, like blood alcohol content, blood glucose, forced vital capacity and inhaler usage.

There's also Health Records (currently in beta), which is Apple's latest initiative to make it as easy as possible for you to have control over your health. If your insurer or hospital is signed up for Health Records, you'll be able to see all your health records right here.

So all your procedures, vaccinations, lab results, medications and more will live right here. If you need to go to a new doctor for some treatment, you won't have to wait for your old doctor to give you your health records - you now own them.

You'll also be able to store medical records in the app on your own, if your medical expert shares them with you. You'll just need to name sure they give you the Clinical Document Architecture files.

Keeping a backup

It's worth making sure you've got a backup of your Health data from time to time - just in case. To do this, tap on your profile icon which appears in the top right and then tap "Export Health Data". It may take a few minutes, but it will give you a file that can be stored away should something terrible happen and you lose all of your precious recorded data.

Doing your bit with ResearchKit

Alongside Apple Health, there's also ResearchKit, which enables Apple Health users to contribute their amassed data to for the purposes of medical research.

Researchers have sung the praises of ResearchKit, saying that it allows them to quickly and easily sign people up for studies, avoiding geographical limitations and finding those with rare diseases.

Read this: How ResearchKit is being used to study rare diseases

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 even breast cancer.

Just search ResearchKit on the App Store to find them. Some apps are simply set up to gain consent for tests, in which researchers will send you kits to complete at home. Some will have you complete tasks, like tapping two buttons in quick order, while others will simply seek to collect your data from Health.

Initially, Apple was adamant that all data remained anonymous, however it's since altered its stance and is now listed as a secondary researcher on a handful of apps. Researchers have called for more access to HealthKit data, largely so they can better understand how people's health affects disease.

You can also sign up to participate in the Apple Heart Study, done in collaboration with Stanford University and an effort to use the Apple Watch to identify atrial fibrillation.

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  • Jenny90008 says:

    I still don't get how the Heath app measures your sleep???? 

  • DavidS says:

    I am very pleased with the Apple Health app, using it to track weight, BMI, blood pressure, steps and flights, as well as storing emergency data.  What I wanted to know, is if there is a way to synch the iPhone Health fitness data to a Mac or other computer.

    Thank you, 

    David S

  • Gmangesh says:

    hi, when the health app displays the heart rate reading in the top right corner, does it display the resting heart rate or just the average heart rate?

  • yustein says:

    There is a mistake in the article. 

    Apple's Health App does not calculate calories burned. It only provides Steps count, Stairs Climbed and Run/Walk distance on its own. 

    To calculate calories burned you need a fitness app. 

    Most probably and with good reason Apple wanted to stay away from the calori calculation controversies. There is no 100% accurate formula to calculate burned calories. 

    • Abatoo says:


      You're so right. That's why I was searching (that is  how I ended up on this website) if there is a way for it to calculate calories just with the phone itself and not being required to use another app or device. I realized that it doesn't measure any calories burned and I need to be able tobhave that done. 

  • Gordon1978 says:

    is there a way for the health app to send alarm to 3rd party user if the heart beat or Blood pressure shots up?

  • Haseena says:

    • how do I get my health app to measure my heart rate? 
  • lydia says:

    How do I measure my blood pressure using the app in iphone 6 plus?

  • Tonypandyninja says:

    Can you have too many health apps?

    If you have strava and map my ride, will they record the same data and log it twice with the health app?

  • ellenoneal says:

    The article is mistaken in saying the app does not track steps and store that data and that you cannot go back to see how many steps you took the previous day. This is not true.  When I discovered the Apple Health app on my phone recently (!), and started exploring it, I saw that it had been tracking and storing my steps for months and I didn't even know it. And all the data is still there.

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