These Apps Will Help You Improve Your Physical and Mental Health
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We're in a golden age of health apps: No matter where you live, what type of workout you prefer or what nutritional needs you have, you can download an app to help you live your best life. There is an abundance of apps available at the click of a button to help you sleep better, drink more water, eat a balanced diet, track your steps, learn to meditate and meet with a therapist to focus on your mental health.
"Your smartphone can be a great tool for promoting health and wellness, especially if you purposefully download apps that are designed to support healthy living," says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, NASM-CPT, deputy nutrition director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. "While many may associate health apps with weight loss and fitness programs, it’s important to make sure that the apps you download support holistic health. Physical health is just one of the many pillars, but a well-rounded personal wellness program will include efforts to improve and manage mental health, emotional health and more."
After testing dozens of health apps IRL, our registered dietitians and fitness experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute are sharing their favorites for 2023.
Many of these offer the first month free, so go ahead and try them out and see which ones get you excited to pick up your phone and get moving, cooking or talking.
If you have an Apple Watch or an iPhone, you'll want to download Apple's own top-notch workout app, which offers more than 3,000 on-demand classes at all levels, plus playlists to go along with them. GH testers appreciated the variety of classes, which range from 5 to 45 minutes, and found the team of trainers diverse and motivating. Sassos loves the Time to Walk feature, which pumps you up for your daily walk as you listen to celebrities such as Dolly Parton and Uzo Aduba share their memories and stories.
BetterHelp Online Counseling
It can take time to find a therapist you really click with, but with the BetterHelp app, you fill out a detailed questionnaire, then you're matched with one of 20,000 licensed therapists (you can switch if it’s not a good fit). The price includes one weekly live session via video or phone, and unlimited texts in a secure "therapy room." Users love the flexibility of scheduling appointments and access to thousands of therapists across the country.
The focus is yoga workouts on this fitness app from the trendy Alo Yoga clothing line, but you can also check out a wide variety of dance, Pilates, cardio and strength-training classes. Have a shoulder injury? There's a workout for that. Looking for prenatal yoga? You can find that here. GH testers also enjoyed the healthy recipe series from influencer Nicole Berrie of Bonberi.
Reviewers loved this app: Pick from hundreds of guided meditations and nature sounds such as ocean waves, heavy rain and babbling brooks in Apple's award-winning app. The mindfulness tool also offers "sleep stories" that can help lull you to dreamland with narrators such as Matthew McConaughey and the late Bob Ross.
Research shows that getting enough zzz's is key for burning more calories and amping up your metabolism. There are programs three to 25 minutes long, geared towards everything from stretching to stress, anxiety and sleep.
Use your smartphone to get instant and accurate nutritional info for more than 900,000 verified packaged, grocery and restaurant foods ranging from chips to Chipotle burritos. The pros at Good Housekeeping Institute appreciate that this app is customizable and provides an easy-to-use tool for those eating on-the-go.
Developed and maintained by registered dietitians, tracking couldn’t be easier thanks to the voice control feature that allows users to log daily food intake and exercise. Users can easily share food logs with their health care provider or coach by using the Track Pro Coach portal.
Map My Walk
Brought to you by Under Armour, Map My Walk provides you with the details on your walks and jogs with custom feedback on pace, distance, calorie burn, elevation and more. If you are just breaking in those new sneakers or even working out on the road, this app can show you the best routes to follow. Users gain motivation from a membership base of over 40 million members strong. Connect with Garmin or Apple Health to get the most out of your workout. This app is easy to use and updates users with their progress along their route. Upgrade to the premium version to use live tracking features so friends and family always know your location. The premium version also offers audio coaching on pace and speed.
Whether you are new to meditation, intermediate or advanced, Headspace is your magic wand to putting you in a calmer, happier place. GH testers can't rave enough about these easy-to-follow guided meditations. There are hundreds of mindfulness and breathing exercises to choose from, including ones geared toward improving anxiety to helping with focus and concentration with the soothing sounds of musician John Legend. Start with 3-minute meditations and build up to some of the longer practices if that’s your goal.
Grocery shopping can be time consuming and can trigger some unhealthy eating habits if you don’t have a plan going in. Fooducate's app can help you stay focused and on your healthy eating path. Fooducate makes grocery shopping incredibly easy if you're looking to sub out those not-so-good products for healthier options. Just scan the barcode on the food you are purchasing and you'll get a personalized nutrition grade, pros and cons, and healthy alternatives to buy instead.
We like that the app takes into account more than just calories, because not every calorie is equal. Nutrients such as sugar, added sugar, saturated fat and sodium should all be considered when you are working to improve your overall diet. Testers appreciated the large food database, and that the app contains a community support feature and ways to swap recipes, although some describe it as limited.
Water consumption is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall well-being. In fact, research continually shows that increased water consumption is associated with lower mortality risk. After all, maybe the reason for your afternoon slump is as simple as you are dehydrated. Waterlogged can help you prevent that from happening.
This app provides a simple and easy way to log your water intake. Choose the size of bottles or drinking glasses you are using and set timers as a gentle nudge to drink up. (For recommendations on best bottles, take a look at our picks for the best water bottles of 2023.) Follow the app to chart your progress in meeting your daily hydration goals.
Do you ever question why some days you wake up feeling refreshed and others exhausted? This app could hold all the answers. Once downloaded, enable the microphone and the app records movement and other sounds to analyze your sleep patterns. It can record if you snore or talk in your sleep, something a lot of people question and must take other people’s word for. It analyzes your sleep from your bedside table, and when you wake, statistics about your sleep quality are immediately available for you.
A new feature that rolled out this year is Sleep Goal, which helps users set a weekly sleep target with wake-up and bedtimes to encourage long-term behavioral changes. If you need another reason to get more sleep, lack of sleep is associated with multiple health related problems such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
The OG of weight loss programs, WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) has been perfecting and tweaking their system for years. This app provides everything you need for successful and sustainable weight loss including an easy-to-use barcode scanner that makes grocery shopping a breeze. Consistently rated one of the highest weight loss apps, this system assigns each user a daily SmartPoints goal and each food is given a point value, with no food being off limits. Recent research shows that using the WW program is significantly more effective for weight loss than doing it on your own.
The app is user-friendly; it contains a live coaching feature as well as a large social community to help keep users motivated. In addition to tracking food, users can also log water and daily physical activity.
Remember that fitness tracker apps or other healthy lifestyle apps are not regulated by the FDA. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting or adopting a new exercise or dietary regimen.
How we chose the best health apps
The registered dietitians, fitness and tech experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Wellness Lab evaluate apps in all sectors of health, including nutrition, wellness and fitness, carefully evaluating and considering tester responses. We look for apps that are user-friendly, contain up-to-date and effective information, are consistent in quality and are affordable. "Most apps offer a free trial, so you can give it a road test before committing to the full month or year subscription," Sassos says. "Investing in your health is important, but the price and how it plays into your monthly budget is an important factor to consider."
How to pick the best health app for you
When selecting a health app that fits your needs, you'll want to consider the following:
✔️ Health and wellness goals: Identify what you are looking to achieve. Are you looking to lose weight, increase overall movement, encourage better sleep habits, incorporate yoga or meditation into your routine or something else? Clearly define your fitness and health objectives and then select the most appropriate app based on your needs.
✔️ Cost: Most apps offer free trials that allow you to test them out before making any long-term commitments. While there is nothing more important than your health, budget is always a factor to consider. Choose the apps that best work with your lifestyle and wallet.
✔️ Ease of use: Some apps are difficult to use and navigate and can leave you more frustrated than where you started. Identify ones that work for you and will support your needs.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
As a dietitian, Amy Fischer appreciates apps that can help hold you accountable for your progress. She is an avid user of a number of fitness and health apps in the belief that when it comes to health, more information is better than less. Amy’s work with hundreds of patients in a clinical setting has led her to realize that individual preferences plays a huge role in the success of any app. The one that feels right for you is the one you will use the most.
Stefani Sassos has been working in the fitness industry for the past 10 years, specializing in indoor cycling and strength training. As a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, she uses her expertise and exercise science knowledge to create informed fitness content for the Good Housekeeping Institute. Stefani uses health apps several times a week to squeeze in workouts while her infant daughter naps, stay hydrated and optimize her sleep, so she understands the value and convenience of an effective health app.
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