Health and fitness at your fingertips

by Nick Walker

The influences of technology in the health care industry have always been ever present, but the reach of gadgets and gizmos into patients’ hands has been speeding up at an ever-growing pace.

To say that applications, or apps, for health and fitness are popular would be more than just a little bit of an understatement.

In Apple’s iTunes store, which is the official source of apps for its iOS operating system run on iPhones and iPads, there were 6,216 paid and 3,351 free apps in the Healthcare and Fitness category as of July 25. There were also nearly 6,000 Health and Fitness apps available at the Android Market for phones and tablets using Google’s Android operating system.

Take for instance the tools now available for Type I and Type II diabetics. For years, diabetics have been able to use a pump to adjust the levels of insulin being put into their bodies to process sugars being ingested. Diabetics also have to check their blood’s sugar levels by testing a small amount of blood using a device know as a glucometer. That technology has only been available for home use since 1981.

In the past 15 years a new technology called Continuous Glucose Monitoring, or CGM, has been developed, allowing patients to see a near continuous, real-time blood sugar reading. It is still a work in progress as some insurance companies won’t cover the device, and its accuracy still requires rigorous checking with a glucometer.

That said, advancements like this show the movement toward patients using technology to take more control over the treatment of their ailments and disease.

This summer, the Food and Drug Administration has issued guidelines for health apps – taking a long look at those applications that might endanger patients if used incorrectly.

Those rules apply to applications that specifically mimic existing health functions, like blood pressure gauges or blood sugar meters. It doesn’t, however, cast its glance on the hundreds of apps that help users work out and develop exercise routines.

Then there are applications that are truly multiplatform and multipurpose like The website is a nutrition and exercise meta that allows users to put in their information – height, weight, age, fitness level – and fitness goals. It then calculates what sort of diet and fitness plan users will need to stick to in order to meet those goals. also has both iPhone and Android apps that allow the user to continue the experience on their phones.

That’s not to say that working out and dieting are the only purposes of these apps.

There are apps to help you monitor what medications you’ve taken and when. Applications to monitor heart rate, guide you on how to do first aid and take you through the different stages of pregnancy fill the servers of the Apple Store and Android Market. Most major insurance companies have phone apps that allow users to look up network physicians and price medication co-pays.

Like most apps on the iPhone and various Android phones, the usefulness of these apps varies. Fortunately, users of health and fitness apps tend to be vocal about the good and bad things with these apps.