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Taking a new app-roach to your keep-fit regime

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but when it comes to the prescription for a healthier lifestyle, many of us are choosing apps to keep bad health at bay.

As the number of specialised health and fitness applications continues to skyrocket, sophisticated smartphones are being used as an essential tool for healthy living

There are currently in excess of 20,000 health apps available, with market-research firm research2guidance predicting 500 million people will be using health apps by 2015.

Not surprisingly, the most popular health apps focus on fighting the battle of the bulge and help manage exercise and diet.

Unslim's app shot straight to the top of the download charts after featuring on TV3's The Apprentice in October as users looking to get in shape and live a healthier lifestyle clambered to download this dinky digital tool.

"I have it on my iPhone," says Triona Callaghan from Mayo. "It is really, really handy because I travel quite a bit so regardless of where I am, it will show me where the nearest class is and will give me the address. So, there's no excuses for missing classes any more."

However, Triona also benefits from being connected with other Unislim weight watchers and their tales of the tape when it comes to fighting the flab and getting in shape.

"There are loads of inspiring stories on the app that you can read from other members," she says. "It is just a little bit of inspiration to keep you focused and motivated every day."

A growing number of apps are specifically targeting the health and fitness needs of those who may not have necessarily embraced digital downloads.

"I am a very busy mum with a toddler and a baby, so this is the first time I have downloaded an app," says Triona. "So it is not something I normally do, like buying music on iTunes or anything like that. But I am more likely to download more apps now because I use this one and it is very handy and useful."

Health apps were recently given a presidential seal of approval in the US when Michelle Obama, as part of her national campaign against obesity, recently offered prizes for developers of apps to encourage kids and their parents to exercise and eat healthier.

Indeed, the word on app appeal is now spreading and Ireland AM's Laura Woods is one of the many converts.

"I've downloaded Health Mate from Aviva," says Laura. "It's a fantastic way to get a real picture of the amount of exercise I actually take. The app shows how far I've walked, how many calories I've burned."

But while apps can help calorie count and keep you in shape they can also offer information and support for more serious illnesses.

Professor Eoin O'Brien, who founded the Blood Pressure Unit in 1979 in the former Jervis Street hospital in Dublin, developed the Blood Pressure Expert to help patients with high blood pressure learn to better control their illness.

"Part of the problem in the past is that doctors have taken a dictatorial attitude and told the patient what to do without explaining why," says Prof O'Brien. "Apps can help when it comes to having a better informed patient. In my opinion the better informed a patient is the better they will be able to manage their illness and their health."

But when it comes to downloading the right app how can users choose from the plethora now available?

"Well firstly the App Store has a rating system that gives stars to each app, so this is a good place to start," says Prof O'Brien. "Then you should check out the credibility of the person or company behind the app. Like everything on the internet you should approach apps with a high level of discretion as to how good the app is."

However, while medical community is developing apps to help support their patients they warn against those who believe apps can replace a visit to the GP.

"I think apps that promote a healthier lifestyle are great," says Prof O'Brien.

"However, it doesn't mean that the patient should be running off thinking they can self-manage an illness as that would be foolish. But if an app can help you lose a little weight or get fit then fair play."

Irish Independent