How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

We explain how to view your data, sync from your apps and more
How to use Apple Health
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Apple has continually updated its Health app since it first debuted back in 2014. It now collects more pieces of data, works with more sources of data and even plays nice with the Apple Watch.

Think of the app as your health hub, and a one-stop place to view your health records. All your data comes together in one location, drawing from your phone, your watch, your fitness trackers, your sleep trackers and your fitness apps. The idea is to collect all this information together 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: Best Apple Watch sleep tracker apps to download

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 apps like Garmin Connect, Nike+ Run Club, MyFitnessPal, Strava and even Pokemon Go to contribute all kinds of metrics to Apple Health. This can be nutritional information, activity information, body temperature, blood pressure, glucose and much, much more.

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And while it's now much easier to use, there's still a lot to sift through. So, to help you out, we've put together a guide to help you get the most out of Apple's Health app. Below, we'll walk you through how to view your data, how to use Health if you wear an Apple Watch, how to sync your third-party apps and more.

Apple Health: How to view your Summary

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

The main dashboard for Apple Health is called Summary and contains a customisable look over some of your health data. The benefit here is that it lets you choose which metrics you have highlighted, according to your needs. There are four sections on the page, which we'll run you through in turn – Favourites, Highlights, Get More From Health and Apps.

Favourites

The Favourites section at the top of Summary is your personalised dashboard, in a way. It gives you a quick look at a few different measurements for the day. You can choose which types of data you want to see by tapping Edit and starring the desired metrics.

There are a huge range of options available under a range of section headers: Activity, Body Measurements, Cycle Tracking, Hearing, Heart, Mindfulness, Nutrition, Other Data, Respiratory, Sleep and Vitals.

When you add a measurement to your Favourites, you'll then see it at the top of your Summary, and have the option to tap on it to see more data. For example, the Steps counter will expand into a historical view that you can use to see how you've performed over days, weeks, months or years.

You'll also see the measurement graphed against your average and can learn about the data with a short description.

Finally, the expanded view also suggests some apps that will track the specific data you're looking at.

There are some impressively niche metrics in the mix here, like cycling distance, swimming distance, swimming strokes, downhill snow sports distance, NikeFuel and pushes. Even Vo2 Max data can be pulled in from both your Apple Watch and other smartwatches, like those from Garmin.

Read this: Best Apple Watch bands

Looking at the detailed view, you can also scroll down to the very bottom to see all your data listed out, view the data sources, and find an option to toggle the unit of measurement.

If you're active, and you have a lot of peripheral devices you've allowed Apple Health to tap into, you can build your Favourites up so that it'll likely be where you spend most of your time in the app. It's very straightforward, and a great way to spot trends over short and long periods of time.

Highlights

Right below the Favourites section, you'll catch one of Apple's big additions in its latest version of the Health app – Highlights. These are effectively AI-generated versions of your Favourites updates, giving you snapshots of how you're doing on some health fronts you might not otherwise be paying attention to.

For example, you might find that it lets you know if you've been listening to your headphones consistently too loudly, or if your last week was a considerably more active one than normal.

These highlights aren't something you can control, and sometimes won't even appear, but can be a good way to get a sense of something you might not be following.

Get More From Health

Apple made a bit of a hoopla about its research work at its big hardware event in September 2019, and put the spotlight on a few initiatives in particular – hearing health and cycle tracking being two.

In the Get More From Health section, you'll find a small selection of articles that Apple's curating with easy-to-read information about health areas. At launch these were "Why Hearing Health Matters", "Understanding Hearing Loss" and a few others.

Apps

The Apps section at the foot of the Health page is fairly self-explanatory. It offers up a list of apps compatible with Apple Heath that you might like to consider using.

Tapping on each will bring up an overlay with the app's App Store page, for you to learn more about it and download it if desired.

Apple Health: How to view and search your data

Next to your Summary at the bottom is the other main tab of Apple's two-pronged new look for the Health app. It's called Browse, and is your quickest way to get to a specific health metric quickly.

At the top of the screen, you'll see a search bar that will let you look for any particular measurements you're focused on. It'll suggest exact data to go to, but also offer up suggestions if you're in the right area – for example, searching "ski" gives us the metric for "downhill snow sports distance.

If you're not after a specific entry, you can also tap into any of the categories listed on the screen to see which metrics you can track within them.

Finally, at the bottom you'll find a "Clinical Documents" entry, which we'll get to a bit later.

How to use Health with an Apple Watch

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

While Apple Health can work autonomously for iPhone owners, that method 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 rack 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 daytime (and in some cases, nighttime) 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.

See also: The best Apple Watch apps

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 tapping your profile button in the top right of the app, tapping Devices and selecting your Apple Watch. You'll get a breakdown of all the information your smartwatch is feeding to Health.

One of the newer features being taken advantage of is irregular heartbeat notifications. This will allow your Apple Watch, all the way back to Series 1, to check for irregular heartbeats. If it senses something, it'll let you know to check it out with your doctor, as irregular heartbeats can be a sign of atrial fibrillation. If you've got a Series 4 or Series 5, all your ECG readings will also be in the same area.

Read this: Apple Watch heart rate guide

No matter which Apple Watch you have, you'll be able to see your VO2 Max, your active energy, your resting energy, your stand hours, your resting heart rate, your walking heart rate average and your heart rate variability. Oh, and if you take on the Apple Watch's breathing reminders, those will show up in the Mindfulness data on the app.

These metrics are all more easily gleaned from the Browse or Summary sections of the app, but the Devices setting 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.

How to sync an app with Apple Health

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

If you've been 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 when 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 Apps section of the Health app to see the ones you've enabled. Find the list by tapping on your profile button in the top right, and hitting Apps under the Privacy heading.

If you choose an app source, you'll be greeted with a bevy of options – you can customize 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 button. If you tap 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.

Apps that work with Apple Health

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 categories in Summary or Browse and scroll down. You'll see a list of recommended apps for each category. For Nutrition, recommendations include LifeSum, Yummly, Lose It! and more.

Edit your Apple Health data

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

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. Apple's made this easier than ever in the newest version of Health. All you have to do is go to that data point, whether via Browse or Summary.

For instance, if you want to add resting energy, just click into it via either tab, then tap the Add data button in the top right corner. You'll then be able to add your kcals alongside a time and date. This is the same across all of the available data points, with the input tailored to the nature of the measurement.

By the way, in each of the data points' dedicated screens, there's an Add to Favourites toggle near the bottom. Click that to add it to your Summary's Favourites section. If you generally track nutritional information but you're looking to keep track of your protein, you can put it up at the top for even easier access.

How to set up your Medical ID

How to use Apple Health: Everything you need to know about the platform

Medical ID allows first responders to quickly get vital information about you right from your phone. It lets you add your blood type, allergies, conditions, and more, with the option to make this information easy to access when your phone is locked.

To add information to this, tap into your profile at the top right of the screen, then select Medical ID, and tap Edit to change and add details.

Turning this on can be useful for emergency situations, so it's a good idea to at least consider it. To view Medical ID, someone will 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, then select what you want to do – a siren will sound and a countdown will begin.

At the bottom of the Medical ID page for US users, 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.

How to view your health records

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, anyway.

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 Clinical Documents section on the main Browse page, which we mentioned earlier? This is where you can sync your records with hospital documentation, if eligible. It won't work for most people, but could be a great bonus if your medical provider allows for it.

This is what Apple calls Health Records, one of its initiatives 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 make sure they give you the Clinical Document Architecture files.

Back up your Apple Health data

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 All 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. Now Apple's also going to release a full Research app for users to opt into studies, providing data for a variety of causes – it's coming later this year.

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 helping to find 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.




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3 comments

  • Tom-M·

    My suggestion to improve the medical ID is to have a place for all of your doctors, name & phone numbers. To assist should the ER or whomever needs to know

  • Fanta·

    Hi

    Thank you for the review and article

    There is a problem with cycling that still persists also in iOS 12:

    I record my cycling with Runtastic app (switching in the Runtastic app to cycling). My cycling data is perfectly read into the Apple Health app and stored as cycling activity there. BUT: The health app is ALSO counting steps while I‘m cycling. So I have a sort „double activity“ that results in an overestimate of my workout done.

    If I then export my activity to Lifesum, it allows me to eat additional calories. On one hand it is nice to be able to earn my beer after easier, but not doing the trick really.

  • Fanta·

    Hi

    Thank you for the review and article

    There is a problem with cycling that still persists also in iOS 12:

    I record my cycling with Runtastic app (switching in the Runtastic app to cycling). My cycling data is perfectly read into the Apple Health app and stored as cycling activity there. BUT: The health app is ALSO counting steps while I‘m cycling. So I have a sort „double activity“ that results in an overestimate of my workout done.

    If I then export my activity to Lifesum, it allows me to take in additional calories. On one hand it is nice to be able to earn my beer easier, but not doing the trick really.