The best iPhone apps for health and fitness – group test review

My Net Diary Calorie Counter Pro, Gym Training by Weightplan, iMapMyRUN, Relax Melodies Premium, Food Additives Checker (E Numbers) and Simply Being reviewed and rated
Photo of The best iPhone apps for health and fitness – group test

The Health & Fitness category in the iTunes store is home to a wild – and occasionally weird – variety of apps. Some are founded in science, real cause and effect, nutrition, exercise and so on, while others have wandered off onto a gentler path and elicit a more emotional, touchy-feely response.

APP OF THE MONTH: My Net Diary Calorie Counter Pro
PRICE: £2.49 inc. VAT
RATING: 4/5
In the same way that you’ve got to want to lose weight, you’ve got to want to track your progress with apps like Calorie Counter Pro – because unless you put the effort in to set it up and then methodically record what you’re eating and drinking (and whether you’re exercising or not) then it’s not going to do the job.

Setting up isn’t helped by having the longest terms of use document we’ve ever seen on an app – screen after screen after screen, we nearly lost the will to live – before you can even start. After that, it picks up the pace, asking for height, weight, age, gender and – importantly – target weight and when you’d like to achieve it; this allows the app to set a daily calorific intake for you as well as estimating how many pounds or kilos a week you need to lose. After that, it’s up to you – not just to eat well and exercise more, but to record what you’re doing.

Calorie Counter Pro has a large database of foods (many from the UK) and learns what you like over time so that these foods either appear at the top of searches or turn up automatically in your favourites list. It also has a bar code reader which can recognise a wide range of popular foods (it recognised Marmite, a tin of sardines and a jar of peanut butter, for example) so you can use it on the go when you’re shopping.

The Home screen gives you a running total of what you’ve eaten and how many calories you have left, how many glasses of water you’ve drunk, how many calories you’ve burned by exercising and more – and like we said, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

Gym Training by Weightplan

Gym Training by Weightplan
PRICE: £FREE
RATING: 3/5
As an alternative to all the deep breathing and relaxation below, proper trainers may prefer something a bit sweatier, which is where Gym Training comes in. You’ll need to sign up for the website service first, but after that – courtesy of a hefty 500MB download – you’ll get access to 100s of gym-related exercises, using both popular machines like treadmills and rowing machines and benches, as well as a wide selection of free weights.

Every exercise includes full, clear instructions and photos – many include video clips as well. Front-loading the exercises with plenty of how-to help is very important – many people lose heart because they’re simply not doing it right and thus not getting the results.

Once you’ve set up your account, you can select a workout (these are rated as beginner, intermediate or advanced or targeted to help you lose weight, tone up, build muscle mass, and so on) and then – inevitably – share your progress via Facebook or Twitter. Along the way you’ll discover workouts for men and women, as well as ways to track your body shape over time. You too can have those calves you’ve always dreamed of.

iMapMyRUN

iMapMyRUN
PRICE: £FREE
RATING: 3/5
There’s a bit of setting up to do before you can start using iMapMyRUN. You’ll have to sign up (via a popular service like Google and Facebook or even MySpace) and then tell it your age, gender, height and weight – but after that you’re ready to go.

Use the app to record the routes of your runs, check your time, speed and distance, then add them to your log so you can analyse your performance as the miles go by. There’s a calorie counter (bit long-winded but effective) you can monitor your daily intake, use the weight tracker to see how you’re doing over time and it runs in the background so you can listen to music or take calls while you’re on the go without losing any data.

iMapMyRUN is ad-supported (the pro version adds audio cues, iPod controls as part of the routing module and photo capture for recording your routes) and while the bottom banners aren’t overly intrusive, the occasional full-screen adverts are. Finally, all that detail may be a bit much for casual joggers, but more serious runners tend to enjoy that kind of thing and will like this.

Relax Melodies Premium

Relax Melodies Premium
PRICE: £1.99 inc. VAT
RATING: 3/5
As much as good diet and exercise are important, we’ve always felt that the key to health and happiness is knowing how to relax, hence Relax Melodies Premium. This app includes more than 70 high-quality sounds of the kind you’d normally associate with relaxing natural sounds, whale song and a cat purring together with some that you wouldn’t – like a spin dryer, the sound of a woman humming a lullaby, or children in a playground. Our favourite is the grandfather clock – we can feel ourselves dropping off just thinking about it.

In addition, the app includes six binaural beats – strange humming sounds that are said to induce relaxation, meditation and even stimulate creativity in the brain. Each sound has an individual volume, you can mix and match sounds, then save combinations as favourites, and set the app to turn itself and the sounds off after a pre-determined time.

We loved the interface, the way the sounds are arranged like blocks hanging on cords, but found ourselves accidentally switching them on as we swiped through the sound library. Still, overall we feel pretty relaxed about that. And everything else.

Food Additives Checker (E Numbers)

Food Additives Checker (E Numbers)
PRICE: £1.49 inc. VAT
RATING: 3/5
This nifty database includes more than 500 additives that turn up in all sorts of frozen, preserved, tinned and chilled foods. Although ‘E’ numbers are less ubiquitous now thanks to pressure from consumers, you’ll still find them in a surprising number of foods – particularly things like chocolate. And where they’re not listed as an ingredient it’s often because the manufacturer has replaced that incomprehensible number with an equally incomprehensible name.

Take alitame or anthocyanins, for example – we know which one we think sounds the dodgiest, but with this app we can be certain because they’re all rated from 1 (safe) to 5 (dangerous). So if you’re out shopping, just tap the number into the E Numbers calculator to find out what it does and then click the arrow for more detailed information; alternatively, search the database for additives by name. Not a lot of laughs, and a bit of a drab interface, but useful enough, especially for anyone who genuinely needs to be careful about what they eat.

Simply Being

Simply Being
PRICE: £0.69p inc. VAT

RATING: 3/5
Simply Being is billed as a ‘Guided Meditation for Relaxation and Presence’ – essentially an electronic version of the good old relaxation tape. It includes 5, 10, 15 and 20-minute versions which feature voice instructions which can be mixed with nature sounds or background music; alternatively, you can focus solely on the voice which is pitched in a pleasant, transatlantic mid-tone.

Everything’s controlled via the main screen with a few simple buttons and you can balance the relative volume of the voiceover and the background sounds/music courtesy of two sliders. There are three ambient sounds included – ocean, rain and stream – which are realistic and looped properly so you can’t hear the join. Devoid of any formal meditative (or religious) discipline, Simply Being will appeal to those with a more laissez-faire attitude to this kind of thing – at one point the voice says: “there may be lots of thoughts going on – it doesn’t matter” – so for anyone who shares that sort of ‘new age’ anything goes approach, this is a pleasant enough way to unwind at the end of a long day.

All apps are available from Apple via the iTunes Store.