Apple Health app and HealthKit: What are they and how do they work?

Apple Health and HealthKit first arrived in 2014 when iOS 8 launched but they have come along way since then.

In a nutshell, the Health app gathers information from your iPhone, Apple Watch and third-party apps to quantify data about you and your environment and display it in an easy-to-read, secure and accurate dashboard. HealthKit is the developer framework behind it that allows apps to work with Apple Health and each other.

If you’re confused about how the Apple Health app works, what type of information you need to get the most out of it, and which apps are compatible, keep reading. This is an introduction to Apple Health with some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Apple’s fitness and health app.

What is Apple HealthKit?

Apple HealthKit is a developer framework. Think of it as a set of tools and services that developers and manufacturers need in order to make their apps and devices compatible with Apple’s Health app.

The HealthKit framework can securely share your health data between compatible apps and services. For example, if you use a smart device with its own app to monitor your weight each day and a second app to track the amount of calories you consume daily, HealthKit would let the scale app share weight data with your calorie-monitoring app to give you more insight.

Numerous developers, manufacturers, and health service providers have enabled their products or services with HealthKit support, allowing them to work with the Health app – more on which apps are compatible in a little further down.

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What is Apple Health?

Apple Health is a health and fitness app – it’s the all white icon with a red/pink heart in the top right corner – and it is a stock app which means it is automatically downloaded onto your iPhone like Photos, Clock, Contacts, Messages, etc.

Health targets people who are interested in learning more about their health and fitness, but it’s an app for convenience, allowing you to see an overview of all your health statistics in one app, rather than having to open several. 

In its current form (it’s about to get revamped when iOS 13 launches later this year), the Health app is a visual dashboard that pulls together your health and fitness data from compatible apps and devices. It will then display any useful data through an easy-to-understand interface. You might see how many calories you burned during a workout, for instance, or how far you ran in the morning.

The Health app will also display more complex metrics such as your blood pressure, body weight, sleep levels, and glucose levels but it needs to be connected or paired with smart devices that can measure these statistics.

How can apps read your health data?

Once you’ve given permission to a health or fitness app, the respective app uses sensors and motion coprocessors in your iPhone or connected wearables and smart devices to collect your health data – such as calorie intake, steps taken, blood pressure, body weight, sleep levels, glucose levels, etc.

Connected wearables and smart devices include everything from smartwatches and fitness bands to Bluetooth heart-rate monitors and blood glucose readers. According to the HealthKit framework, your iPhone is the first device to collect and supply data to the Health app, followed by wearables and other smart devices. HealthKit quantifies the data and pipes a simplified version of everything to the Health app, for your viewing pleasure.

Keep in mind that health and fitness apps without their own smart devices also work with HealthKit and the Health app. You just need to manually enter your age, height, weight, and other health-based information into those apps, and then they can send it to HealthKit for quantifying and sharing with other apps.

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How do you use the Apple Health app?

The Apple Health app has four main tabs at the bottom: Today, Health Data, Sources, Medical ID.

Today

The Today tab is the main tab in the Apple Health app and it will be the tab that you’ll land on when you open the app. At the top of the Today screen in the top right corner is a small circle with a head in it. This is your profile where you can see and edit your blood type, sex, skin type, date of birth and other information.

At the top of the screen in the top left hand corner you’ll see the current month, along with days of the current week below. You’ll be able to see your health and fitness history here by clicking on one of the visible dates or tapping the month in the top left corner to go back further.

Below the calendar dates, you’ll see a dashboard with a number of coloured cards showing numerous metrics, such as Active Energy, Steps, Flights Climbed, Heart Rate, etc. What appears here will depend on what apps and devices you have setup and granted permission to share data to Apple Health.

Scrolling down the dashboard will show you all the metrics Apple Health has collected and tapping on each metric card will offer more information, including a graph and the ability to filter by day, week, month and year at the top. You can also manually add data when in an individual metric by tapping the “+” in the top right of the screen.

Those with an Apple Watch will see their Activity data appear at the top of the Today dashboard.

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Health Data

The Health Data tab offers access to numerous categories. There are four main tiles at the top of the Health Data tab – Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition and Sleep – but there are also a number of categories below these tiles too, including Body Measurements, Health Records, Reproductive Health, Vitals, Results and Heart.

Each of these categories allow you to input health data relating to each manually, or they will pull the information from compatible health and fitness apps and other smart devices. Data that the Health app has relating to each category will appear as a card like it does in the Today tab when you tap on the specific category.

Missing data – such as Lean Body Mass in Body Measurements for example – appears below under a section called “No Recorded Data” if the data isn’t available to collect from anywhere. Tapping on a missing metric will allow you to add it manually by tapping the “+” in the top right corner. 

Each section of data under each category – such as Body Fat Percentage under Body Measurements – offers granular privacy and setting controls, allowing you to decide whether you want to share specific data with specific sources. You can also favourite a section within a category when you click on it, as well as see which sources are providing the information.

Tip: Tapping on the Health Data tab at the bottom of the screen when in a section of a category will bring you back to the main home page of the Health Data tab.

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Sources

The Sources tab allows you to see all app requests you have approved to share data with the Health app.

An app will only send you a request if it is capable of collecting and serving up health data. If you accept a request, the categories within the Health Data tab will begin pulling relevant health data from the respective app.

Once the Health app receives health data from the compatible app, your Dashboard will display the information in an easy-to-read visual.

Medical ID

The Medical ID tab gives you the option to ‘Create a Medical ID’ the first time you open it. Your Medical ID is a complete profile of your basic medical records, and it’s particularly useful to first responders or paramedics, as well as anyone with the need for emergency access to information about you, such as allergies. Enabling the feature allows anyone to view your Medical ID profile just by swiping from your iPhone lock screen and tapping Emergency and then Medical ID.

You can fully configure Medical ID to include your custom picture, name, date of birth, medical conditions, notes, allergies, reactions, and medications. Simply start adding details under each section, or tap Edit in the top right-hand corner in order to start adding details. You’ll need to hit ‘Done’ when you’ve finished adding.

You can also add emergency contacts. You’ll be able to choose from your phone contacts and add the relationship of the person to you. There are also fields for blood type, height and weight, as well as whether you are an organ donor.

If you should change your mind about having such sensitive information available from the lock screen, all the details in your Medical ID profile can be deleted via the ‘Delete Medical ID’ button at the bottom of the editing page. You can also toggle off the ‘Show When Locked’ option when on the editing page.

Keep in mind you’re also able to go back into the Medical ID tab of the Health app to make changes at any time.

What apps and devices are compatible with Apple Health?

There are numerous apps and devices compatible with Apple Health. Here are some of worth using:

  • 7 Minute Workout
  • AutoSleep
  • Beddit 3 Sleep Tracker
  • Carrot Fit
  • Clue
  • Endomondo
  • Garmin Connect
  • Glow
  • Golfshot Plus
  • Lifesum
  • Map My Run
  • Misfit
  • My Diet Coach
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Nike+ Run Club
  • One Drop
  • Pacer Pedometer
  • Runtastic
  • Runkeeper
  • Strava
  • Weight Watchers
  • WebMD
  • Withings Health Mate
  • Qardio Heart Health

Tip: To see which apps you have granted access to the Health app: Open Settings > Privacy > Health. Alternatively, open the Health app > Tap on the Sources tab. Apps with access will appear at the top, devices will appear at the bottom.

Is your data safe?

Apple has included granular controls in the Health app that allows you to decide whether you want to share your weight from a weight-tracking app, for instance, with another health app.

This is what Apple says about Apple Health and privacy: “When your phone is locked with a passcode, Touch ID or Face ID, all of your health and fitness data in the Health app – other than your Medical ID – is encrypted.

“Your health data stays up to date across all your devices automatically using iCloud, where it is encrypted while in transit and at rest. Apps that access HealthKit are required to have a privacy policy, so make sure you review these policies before providing apps with access to your health and fitness data.”

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