Apple offers a robust fitness platform for those already inside its walled garden. Unlike some other manufacturers (I’m looking at you, Samsung), Apple Fitness is far from an afterthought. In fact, through Apple Health, Apple helps to enable seamless synchronization between a wide variety of sources.
That said, getting started with fitness tracking on Apple can be a somewhat confusing process. What is Apple Health, and how is it different from Apple Fitness? Do you need an Apple Watch to get the most out of it? And just what is Apple Fitness Plus? This is your complete guide to fitness on Apple. Read on to learn more.
What is Apple Health?
We’ll start with Apple’s Health app, unhelpfully called Apple Health. The Apple Health app made its debut on the iPhone in 2014. Its goal is to provide a central hub where users can see data from a wide range of sources.
Let’s say you have three fitness trackers (maybe a running watch, Oura Ring, and Fitbit), a MyFitnessPal account, and a HIIT workout timer that you like to use. Perhaps you also mediate with Headspace from time to time. And did you know your iPhone also tracks things like steps? It will even look for things like “walking asymmetries” using the in-built gyroscope.
All these collect data, some of which overlaps. That’s where Apple Health comes in. It syncs with the most popular health apps and stores all of that data in a single spot.
Apple’s nomenclature can be confusing for those new to fitness on Apple. You may be wondering, for example, how the Apple Health app differs from HealthKit?
The simplest way to explain this is that the Health app is the user-facing app that displays all of your fitness information from various sources. HealthKit, meanwhile, is the underlying framework and set of APIs that allows developers to interact with that data. Using HealthKit, developers can make sure that their information is shown through Health and access data from other apps — with permission, of course.
How to use the Apple Health app
For the most part, you can let the Health app do its thing in the background while you use various other tools. Once you’ve created a profile, you’ll be able to set up most health tracking apps, so they automatically share their data with Apple Health.
When you open the Health app, you will be greeted first with a Summary page displaying step count, energy burn, recent activities, and more. You’ll also see some trends and totals at a glance. For example, you can see how your step count compares to previous days. This summary is curated for you based on machine learning algorithms. You’ll see data like exercise minutes, vitals, and more.
Hit the Browse tab at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll be able to view more information regarding a specific category. For example, you can see more about your sleep, your heart rate, your respiratory rate, and more. Any of these expanded pages will also give you the option to see data sources. This way, you can see precisely where Apple Health is getting the information.
What’s great about the Health app is the sheer breadth and depth of information on offer. Because Health pulls from so many platforms, gadgets, and your phone itself, you’ll be able to see data you don’t get elsewhere. That includes information relating to hearing (how is your headphone exposure?), mindfulness (when did you last meditate with an app like Headspace?), and even handwashing.
Apple Health is detailed, but it could use a UI refresh.
While I love how all this information is displayed in one spot, I feel like the UI could use some work. It would also be nice to see some graphs showing relationships between these different data points. Wouldn’t it be great to see how something like mindfulness practice could predict sleep quality?
You can also opt to fill out more data about yourself by clicking the profile icon in the top right and choosing Health Details. You can add your Medical ID here, too. This is useful in the event of a medical emergency.
Hit Show All Health Data, and a page with more detailed information will appear. What’s here depends on the devices and apps you use and whether they support Apple Health.
The best apps to use with Apple Health
While many apps share data with Apple Health — far too many for us to list here — there are a few that work particularly well. Here are some of our recommendations:
- WaterMinder: This app tracks water intake and provides reminders to keep drinking enough. Dehydration is both common and very damaging for a lot of people.
- Headspace: This is a well-known app that provides guided mindfulness meditations.
- MyFitnessPal: MyFitnessPal is perhaps the best-known and most widely used calorie tracking app. It’s great for those trying to lose weight.
- Endel: Endel creates personalized soundscapes to improve focus or help you relax. It uses heart rate data from the Apple Watch to adapt to your biometrics. It’s a bit expensive for what it is, but it’s cool.
And if you’re wondering which fitness trackers support Apple Health, the answer is pretty much all of them. If you’re investing in a new device and are a fan of the Health app, you may wish to double-check. However, it’s a safe bet that it probably syncs to Apple Health if the product has been around for a few months.
Also read: The best fitness trackers you can buy
What is Apple Fitness?
Apple Fitness, meanwhile, is Apple’s fitness tracking app for the Apple Watch. On the Summary page, you’ll find your metrics for the day alongside trends and workouts, including workouts pulled from the Apple Health app.
The Apple Fitness app is simple and streamlined, revolving around three main measurements. These are illustrated by the famous rings, which gradually close throughout the day as you get closer to your targets.
There are three rings:
- Exercise: Completed by 30 minutes of activity at or above a brisk walking pace.
- Stand: Completed by moving for at least one minute during 12 daytime hours.
- Move: Completed when you hit your personal goal for active calories burned.
Each time you close a ring, you’ll be rewarded with a little celebration on your wrist. You can then go back and see how you did on all three scores over previous days.
While the Apple Watch measures things like your heart rate, that is not shown here. This keeps things simple, which may or may not be to your tastes.
Further reading: Apple Watch Series 6 and SE buyer’s guide
At the bottom of this page, you’ll also find an Awards section. Tap Show More to see the awards you’ve been granted and those you have yet to achieve. Just like chasing achievements in video games, these awards can incentivize you to push yourself and hopefully see your health improve as a result. It’s also nice to recognize your commitment to standing more, even if you aren’t chasing one particular badge.
What is Apple Fitness Plus?
Apple Fitness Plus (aka Apple Fitness+) is another offering from Apple with a highly generic name. Apple Fitness Plus is quite different, however. Rather than tracking data, Fitness Plus is a fitness platform that offers a catalog of guided workout videos for $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. You need an Apple Watch to use Apple Fitness Plus as this is what enables the unique selling point: personalized recommendations and automatic tracking.
You can access Apple Fitness Plus through the App Store or via an Apple TV. Users can find it by tapping the Fitness+ tab in the Fitness app. There’s a one-month free trial, so there’s no harm in checking it out.
Apple’s health suite vs other fitness tracking platforms
Apple Health (as well as Apple Fitness and Fitness Plus) is a unique proposition compared to offerings from other fitness tracker manufacturers. Rather than collating data from a single source, the Health app provides information from a wide variety of sources.
This highlights Apple’s biggest selling point regarding health and fitness: its versatility and support for third-party apps. Out of the box, the Apple Watch is a fairly basic fitness tracker (albeit nicely made and with on-point accuracy). It’s by choosing from the gigantic range of third-party apps that the Apple Watch really comes into its own. Suddenly, the Apple Watch can do things that not many other fitness trackers can, like play music based on your heart rate. Through Apple Health, all this unique data is stored in one convenient spot.
The big competition for Apple Health, though, is Google Fit.
Like Apple Health, Google Fit’s main job is to keep all the data from your various fitness apps and platforms in a single spot. This information is combined to provide Move Minutes and Heart Points. These scores result from collaboration with the American Heart Association and, essentially, represent activity and exercise.
While your choice of platform will likely be dictated by your operating system (Health is only beneficial for iOS users), there are also some more differences between Google Fit and Apple Health. On balance, Apple Health offers a more comprehensive list of metrics and provides more detailed trends and progress. For example, Apple Health supports data relating to diet, alcohol level, blood glucose, and more.
But with its Move Minutes and Heart Points, Google Fit functions as more of a fitness platform in its own right. It is also possible to integrate Google Fit data with Apple Health.
So, that’s your total guide to Apple Health, Apple Fitness, and Apple Fitness Plus. It’s a powerful toolset that empowers iOS users to do more with health and fitness data. But what do you make of the platform? Do you use Apple Health or Google Fit? Let us know.