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

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

Apple Health has been through some big developments since it appeared on the scene in 2014. It now collects more data types, does more with the Apple Watch, and has generally got a lot better at breaking down your fitness performance each day.

The app is designed to be a hub on your iPhone or iPad where all of your health and fitness data comes together, taken from the phone itself, fitness wearables, or fitness apps like RunKeeper. Whether it's the Apple Watch or your Withings Health Mate app, the idea is to collect all this information each day for an overall snapshot of what you've done - negating the need to open up different apps and add different scores together.

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

It'll also take data from the iPhone's onboard motion sensors and GPS, and you'll be able to glean data about your steps, calories burned, distance, and flights of stairs climbed just through carrying your iPhone on your person.

Through Apple's HealthKit API, the Health app syncs up with various third-party apps and devices that keep tabs on your movement, sleep, weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, nutrition, body temperature and reams of other quantifiable data. Plus, since the Apple Watch came long the app also shows you how well you're doing in closing those Activity Rings.

Here's our guide to using Apple Health.

Health Data

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

These days the dashboard is known as Health Data, and is a much simpler landing page to understand. Rather than chucking up a bunch of graphs that quantify exactly how much you've disappointed yourself, it breaks down your health areas into Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition and Sleep.

This instantly has the benefit of letting you go directly to what you want to look at and ignoring everything else. You may not even be interested in tracking your sleep.

See also: The best Apple Watch apps

Tapping on each one will take you to a new screen that gives you a breakdown of your latest recorded data. For example, go to Activity and you'll see a list of entries detailing how active you've been on that day, that month, and that year.

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

Using Health with a device

While Apple Health can work autonomously for iPhone owners, that method does rely on folks carrying their iPhone with them every step of the way. If you leave it on the desk when you pop to the restroom, it won't count the steps you took, the distance you travelled or the flights you climbed.

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For a more complete picture, Health works best when synced to another fitness tracker or smartwatch you're always wearing (or a connected device like a heart rate sensor or smart scale) via that device's companion app.

There are reams of apps already able to pair with Health thanks to Apple's HealthKit API.

For example, every time you use a Withings Smart Body Analyzer scale, Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor or Aura Smart Sleep System that information is reported sent back to the Withings Health Mate app via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you want this data to be fed to Apple Health, you'll need to enable it as a source.

Using Health with an app

If you've been using an app like MapMyFitness or RunTracker for years, you don't need to stop. Health will collect that data and pull it into the app, but you need to make sure the two are talking. The Apple Health app will helpfully also import historical data too.

This process will differ slightly for each app, but to get them talking you'll need to enable access to Health from the other app. In apps like MapMyFitness, you'll find this under Settings, but many apps will prompt you to connect when you first set them up. You'll be able to choose which bits of data are shared, too, if there are some things you'd rather not export across.

Once the app is enabled, you'll see it listed under Sources in the Health app. From there you'll be able to view all the recorded data from each app, as well as remove any that you believe to be erroneous.

It's in Sources that you'll also see a list of the devices that are directly sharing data with Health. Again, tapping on each will let you view a breakdown of all the different activities these devices have captured.

Finding the right apps

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

There are a lot of apps that talk to the HealthKit API, meaning the Health app can pull your data from a wide range of applications you already use. Above we've mentioned how to get them talking, but how do you find the right apps to use?

One helpful way is to simply tap on one of the categories on the Health Data menu and scroll down. Toward the bottom you'll see a list of apps recommended for that category. For nutrition, examples include things like MyFitnessPal's Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker or some recipe apps.

Editing your view

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

Despite no longer being called the Dashboard, the Health Data page is still meant to offer a quick glimpse of all the information that's most relevant to you without you having to delve much further into the app. So it makes perfect sense you can easily add and remove data types depending on your goals.

We've already explained how Health Data gives you a breakdown of your data for each category, but when it comes to the Activity and Nutrition categories you can scroll down and see, under No Recorded Data, the list of additional things to add. For example, in Nutrition you can choose to keep track of your caffeine intake, calcium, or even how much fibre you've had.

Tap on one of these and you'll go to a separate that lets you add each one to your Favourites, meaning they'll now show up on your data for each day. In each of these sub-menus you can also see which apps are tracking that data.

Likewise if you wish to see metrics like Cycling Distance and Wheelchair Distance, these can be added in the Activity category.

Tracking sleep using Apple Health

Here's the thing; the Apple Watch doesn't include a sleep tracker. So, you'll need to use another wearable or a Health-compatible sleep tracking app in order to bring your sleep data into the Health app.

Every fitness tracker worth its salt is able to measure your sleep quality through movement levels, while apps like Sleep Cycle (which relies on placing your iPhone under your pillow at night) will also feed data back to Health.

Once you have them talking, your sleep data will automatically pop up under your day's overview, which you'll see by hitting the Today tab - or by going through the Sleep section via the Health Data tab.

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

It's a great idea to make sure you've entered all the right information including blood type, allergies, any medical conditions, and your emergency contact. But it may also be useless if other people can't access it should an emergency arise.

If you want this data to be visible, tap the Medical ID tab on the bottom then hit Edit. You'll see an option to Show When Locked, and by turning this on your Medical ID will be viewable without someone having to enter a passcode. All they have to do is attempt to unlock the phone, tap Emergency and select Medical ID from the dialler menu.

This also applies to the Apple Watch: someone can press and hold the side button and drag the slider to the right to view your essential information.

As well as this, there's an option here to sign up as an organ donor. Something to think about.

Manually adding data

There are two ways to add data to the Health app, The first is automatically via connected devices and apps, such as the Apple Watch. The second is manually. While it's preferable and more convenient to use automatic syncing, there are some occasions when manually adding metrics is unavoidable. Maybe you went for a run without your device but don't want to miss out on adding those precious miles.

For example, if you're tracking your asthma 'Inhaler Usage', that has to be added manually. Just find the metric within Health Data tab and tap the little cross in the top right corner.

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.

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

If used regularly, the Apple Health app 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 forced vital capacity and other things required by more specialised wearables. That said, we recently noticed that in iOS 11 Apple has added VO2 Max to this list, which the Apple Watch will soon be able to track.

Apple is working to enable users to share the data collected by Health with their medical practitioners. It could lead to earlier diagnoses, better preventative prescriptions and a greater understanding of conditions.

You're also able to store medical records in the Health app if your medical expert shares them with you.

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.

One of the first of those, a cardiovascular study at Stanford University, received 11,000 sign-ups within the first 24 hours. 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 breast cancer too.

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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  • 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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