An Apple iPhone a Day

It’s the middle of summer and as I write this column it’s hot. Damn hot. And my heart rate reflects it. It has climbed a bit as my body starts to work a bit harder to sweat and cool off. I can tell this by looking at my Fitbit Surge. It gives real-time heart rate information. I’m confident it’s the heat as I’m sitting at a keyboard typing, so all that’s left to account for the extra effort is the heat. Well, my heart rate may have jumped slightly when The Stone’s “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” came on a minute ago on, but I’ll ignore that since it’s off topic.

Of course, if you’re training for an event, sports in general, or just keeping track of your health, it’s not your current heart rate that’s the issue – it’s the trend. Fitter people tend to have lower average heart rates and lower maximum heart rates at exertion. So, tracking the trend is what’s important. How to do that?

Well, Fitbit has an app of course that keeps track of it. But so does my iPhone. Apple Health is an app, or more correctly a programming interface for devices and other apps to talk to. Fitbit, Garmin, Wahoo, Nike+, Strava, Runkeeper, WeightWatchers, MyFitnessPal, many others, and of course Apple Watch, all talk to Apple Health and will upload/download stats.

What can be tracked? Body Fat, BMI, Stairs, Heart Rate, Resting Energy, Sleep, Steps, Distances, Workouts, Menstrual Cycles, Diabetes, etc. And the list is growing. Not all device track all these statistics, so your mileage may vary (no pun intended.)

All of these devices and apps have varying abilities to display this information to you. This is where the Apple Health app on your iPhone comes in handy as it gives you easy access to look at all of this even if your device doesn’t.

First, you need to setup your device or app. They’re all a little different, so you’ll have to use the instructions associated with yours. Once setup you can go to the Sources section of the Health app to configure it. You can also turn it off here if you want it to cease tracking for some reason.

Let’s look at a simple example of usage: sleep tracking. Very few devices support sleep tracking right now, but your iPhone will do it for you. You can set your phone to give you reminders of when to go to bed and when to get up, for consistency. You can also use an app like Sleep Cycle which has you put your iPhone under your pillow. Now you’ll start getting regular information about your sleep cycles. My FitBit Surge does sleep tracking so I can see how long my sleep REM cycles are and how disturbed or restful my sleep is. And how much sleep I’m averaging. Changes to the average could be me being more responsible or it could be indicative of stress or illness. Seeing the change lets me decide if I have to do anything about it.

Each of the categories in the Apple Health app, Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition, and Sleep all have a list of recommended apps for those categories, if you’re looking to get started.

If you’re thinking all this sound like a bit much even to get started, you may be surprised to find out that you’re already doing it. If you open the Apple Health app and take a look at the Activities category you’ll find out just how many steps you’ve taken so far with your iPhone in your pocket. It’s already tracking your health info. You just have to decide if you want it to track more or with assistance from a device or other app.

Other interesting things about the Apple Health app: it has a Medical ID component where you can record your organ donor status, blood type, medical conditions, allergies, etc. Some of which may be useful in a health emergency.

The one question I’ve been asked about this app a few times is regarding its security. Is it secure? Probably secure enough is the answer. Apple has robust security. All your health data is stored on the phone in an encrypted format and only shared with other apps with your permission. Even Apple never has your plain data, only the encrypted format, if your data is backed up on their servers. So, unless you’re a national security threat, your data is probably safe.