Top apps to keep your health and wellbeing on track 

With so many on the market, it can be difficult to know which health apps are safe to use. We get advice from the experts 
Top apps to keep your health and wellbeing on track 
Picture: Stock image

DURING lockdown we all got used to staying healthy at home with downloads and digital aids in place of gym memberships and personal trainers. Research by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA), a health app evaluation company that conducts reviews for the HSE and eHealth Ireland, says there has been a 180% increase in traffic to health apps in the past three months and a rise from 4m to 5m downloads worldwide per day.

It’s a market dominated by fitness apps, but increasingly we are searching for online help with our mental health, physiotherapy, fitness, anxiety and sleep. With a staggering 365,000 health apps available – and 90 more being added every day – it can be a minefield selecting a reliable app that will help, not hinder your health.

According to ORCHA, any app that claims to make a diagnosis needs a CE certification which means it complies with medical device regulations and the best offer named relevant health professionals and plenty of referenced peer-reviewed evidence. Don’t expect every app to be free – often you need to pay for the ones worth downloading. But which should you choose?

Best for heart health: Kardia (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Basic app is free and you get a free one month trial of the premium app version offering regular cardiologist reviews of your heart data which costs €11.99 per month after that.

Apps for stroke and heart health are among the most popular and have been downloaded over one billion times on Google Play. Yet in May [2020], an ORCHA review of 221 apps for heart health and strokes found 80% to be substandard. This one bucks the trend. It provides an ECG in just 30 seconds to tell instantly if your heart rhythm is abnormal. You do need a KardiaMobile device (it costs €99; promed.ie), which is about the size of a credit card and detects arrythmia from your fingers, sending the results to the app.

Best for workout classes: Peloton digital (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: 30-day free trial then €12.99 a month (access is free if you have a Peloton bike)

Peloton does not just mean an expensive exercise bike – in fact, you don’t need any equipment for many of the workouts on offer on this app (it’s the one I’ve been obsessed with during lockdown). Choose from 10 categories (including strength, yoga, cardio, meditation and stretching) with up to 30 daily live-streamed classes and an endless backlog of thousands of on-demand videos. It scored a 79% ranking as one of ORCHA’s top fitness apps.

Best for improved flexibility: 5 Minute Yoga (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Free (optional premium level access from €2.20 per month)

Provides bite-sized chunks of simple but effective yoga poses. Each workout lasts no longer than five minutes and there’s a timer to ensure all postures are performed for the correct duration. As well as yoga routines for better flexibility, there are other options such as poses for improved strength and stronger core. ORCHA praises its clear images and easy to follow instructions.

Best for injury rehab: PhysiApp (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Free

This app, designed with top medical experts, aims to become your at-home answer to niggles and injuries. Select your problem area and get an online consultation via video and watch exercise videos with top tips written by medical professionals for a wide range of back, muscle and joint pain issues.

Best mobile personal trainer: 8Fit (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Free with Pro option from €26 for three months

With 30m users, this app combines diet and exercise advice and scored highly for user experience and data privacy. You don’t need any equipment to do the mostly HIIT-style workouts as they are designed to use your own bodyweight for gradual improvements in muscle strength, endurance and weight loss and they take only five to 20 minutes to complete. There’s a database of more than 400 healthy recipes customised to your personal tastes or allergies and 350 exercises.

Best sleep aid: Sleepio (iOS or sleepio.com/mobile)

Cost: Free

Created by sleep expert, Professor Colin Espie from the University of Oxford, the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques used in this sleep improvement app were shown in a leading clinical trial to help long-term poor sleepers fall asleep up to 50% faster and to reduce time awake at night by up to 60%. You need to create a Sleepio account and take a sleep test at www.sleepio.com before using the app.

Best for brain training: My Cognition (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Free seven-day trial and then €9.38 per month

If you struggle with memory, focus or simple calculations, this app promises to boost the way your brain works. Once you’ve completed a cognitive assessment, you are provided with personalised and adapted programme of exercises using the app’s training game AquaSnap. With a subscription, you can also create six extra accounts for friends and family.

Best for stress and anxiety: Wysa (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: Free (upgrade to premium from €5.50 per month)

Used by more than a million people worldwide to deal with stress, anxiety, panic attacks, loss and conflict, Wysa is the most highly rated app of its kind by ORCHA with 100% rating for clinical assurance and almost 90% user satisfaction. It is a mood tracker, mindfulness coach and anxiety aid rolled into one and provides 40 conversational coaching tools. It allows you to vent at an ‘emotionally intelligent chatbot’ and to access de-stressing techniques such as spiritual meditation, CBT and yoga. Its advisors include an impressive range of mental health experts from around the world.

Best for asthma management: My Asthma (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: €44.19 (mymhealth.com/myasthma)

In a recent review, ORCHA found that 61.4% of asthma apps scored below its quality threshold but this one scored highly on clinical assurance and user quality. It provides a comprehensive package for anyone wanting to control their asthma with basics such as a medication diary, weather, pollen and air pollution forecasters so that you can prepare for your trigger and a detailed action plan for your condition.

Best for disease prevention: Low Carb Program (iOS and Google Play)

Cost: €16.57 per month (lowcarbprogram.com)

A guide to reducing and tracking your blood glucose, cholesterol levels and weight with the help of a team of mentors who set you targets and offer feedback. The app allows you to browse over 1,000 recipes and meal plans and to access relevant daily health improvement articles. In peer-reviewed research, the app was shown to help people to lose an average 7.4kg of weight per year and to put one in four patients into Type 2 Diabetes remission.

Best online GP: Babylon

Cost: Free symptom checking tools; €49 per consultation with flexible payment options (babylonhealth.com/pricing-ireland)

There’s a free symptom checking tool as well as a mood and activity tracker. But if you want to get an instant online doctor consultation, prescription sent to a pharmacy of your choice or a referral it will cost. With the price you get a free digital health check, free prescription delivery and can playback your consultation at any time.

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