Apps to help your health

Danny Gorog
2 July, 2012
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Tracking your health used to be something that required sophisticated and specialised medical equipment. And usually a visit to your doctor. But, as they now say, “there’s an app for that too”.

One app that has been particularly successful on the App Store is Azumio’s Instant Heart Rate.

The company says it is a leader in biofeedback health apps on mobile devices, with more than 15 million downloads to date on both iOS and Android platforms. The venture-backed company has received US$2.5 million in funding up to now.

The free Instant Heart Rate does exactly as the title suggests, by using your iPhone’s camera to record your heart rate. When you first use it you won’t believe that it’s accurate, but it is. I’ve verified it and compared it against results from dedicated heart rate monitors and also tested it by manually monitoring my heart rate. Azumio has also independently tested the app with nurses, doctors and fitness coaches.

To use the app, you place your finger gently over the camera and hold it steady for at least 10 seconds. The app, Azumio says, uses the same technique used by medical pulse oximeters and works by tracking the colour changes in the light that travels through your finger.

Once Instant Heart Rate finds your pulse, your current heart rate will be shown on the display, ECG-style. After you’ve used the app to take your pulse you can share the results on Twitter and Facebook.

In practise, Instant Heart Rate is easy to use, but you need to keep quite still to get an accurate readout. On occasion I was able to get an accurate read out while running, but my success using the app while standing still was 100 percent. Even if you don’t use Instant Heart Rate regularly, it’s a great app to impress your friends with.

Another of Azumio’s apps, Stress Check (free/$0.99), is also worth a mention. It uses the same technology as Instant Heart Rate to measure your pulse and then estimates your level of stress in real time by using algorithms to measure your heart rate variability.

Finally, and depending on your level of stress, a third app called Stress Doctor ($1.99, pictured) teaches you deep-breathing techniques to help you reduce your stress levels.

According to Azumio, “Stress Doctor works by visualising respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) which, in layman’s terms, is the rising and falling of your heart rate when you breathe in and out.

“When you inhale, pressure in your chest drops and consequently your blood pressure drops as well. Your autonomous nervous system (ANS) instantly increases your heart rate to compensate for this. A couple of seconds later, the other systems for blood pressure regulation kick in and your heart rate starts to fall back to your baseline.”

I’ve spent the past week testing Stress Doctor and can confirm that the app does help improve your deep breathing. I’ll admit that I was testing it in bed, and actually fell asleep while deep breathing. The app is easy to use and lets you visualise when you have a ‘successful’ deep breath by adding a little yin yang symbol to the on-screen graph.

Azumio suggests that you use Stress Doctor for a minimum of five minutes at a time, and if you do this each day you’ll be a more relaxed person. The only trouble I had with this is that my iPhone normally buzzes every couple of minutes with some kind of alert. If your iPhone does the same I’d suggest putting it into Airplane mode before using Stress Doctor.

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