9 free and cheap apps to promote heart health and fitness

Personal health is one of the booming sectors in mobile app development. Counting calories, monitoring health habits, tracking progress with exercise routines and assessing nutrition goals? There are apps for all of that. 

More than 50 percent of mobile users own a smartphone, so mobile apps will continue to play a major role in shaping consumers' daily health routines.

As we recognize Hearth Month, here are the nine user-friendly apps that help promote heart health for iPhones and Android phones:

HeartWise Blood Pressure Tracker by SwEng LLC for iOS ($0.99) This app logs blood pressure and body weight. It offers a user the ability to generate charts and calculate other important cardiac indicators such as BMI. Information can be exported, making it accessible for both personal and professional monitoring.

Instant Heart Rate for Android and iOS (Free; a pro version is available for $0.99) is a comparable tool that can be found in Google's Play Store. The app uses the LED light on Android phones to measure a user's pulse. By tracking color changes in the light passing through a finger placed over the phone's camera, this app determines a user's heart rate in about 10 seconds. It does not require external hardware.

SparkPeople Diet and Food Tracker by SparkPeople.com for iOS and Android (Free): This tool allows users to track their food intake and physical activity. It's a mobile extension of SparkPeople.com, an online diet and healthy living community. The app provides target ranges for desirable food intake, rather than specific nutrition guidance.

MyFitnessPal by MyFitnessPal.com for iOS and Android (Free): This calorie-counting app features an extensive food database (more than 2 million foods) and provides a built-in barcode scanner so it's easy to identify nutritional information for specific food items. Users are given customized caloric allotments, which are adjusted based on physical activity. A writer for TodaysDietitian.com wrote, "This multifaceted app makes achieving and maintaining a healthful weight manageable and holds individuals accountable for physical activity, both vital aspects for strong cardiovascular health."

Substitutions by Gormaya for iOS ($0.99): This aids recipe modification to support specific dietary restrictions. It offers nearly 60 suggestions for how to reduce sodium and fat in the diet to improve cardiovascular health, encourages clients to make better food choices, and helps foster confidence in cooking ability. 

Fooducate by Fooducate, Ltd for iOS and Android (Free): Voted best iPhone Health and Fitness App in 2011,  this app was designed to help users while they're grocery shopping. After scanning a product's barcode, a user gets a detailed nutritional description. The best feature of this program is that users are able to compare items for their health benefit, taste and cost. 

Figwee Portion Explorer by Density Limit LLC for iOS ($1.99): This app offers more than 30,000 images of real foods in various portion sizes. Users can adjust photos to increase or decrease food quantity to see how the changes affect nutritional value. This app is best used in conjunction with other food-tracking tools but does have value as a stand-alone nutrition education tool.

Sleep Cycle by Maciek Drejak Labs for iOS ($0.99): According to TodaysDietitian.com, "poor sleeping habits correlate with hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart failure, and heart attack." This app in the Apple Store is a high-tech alarm clock that analyzes movement during sleep. It also wakes users at the optimal time in their sleep cycles (within a half-hour range) so they get the ideal amount of sleep. A free alternative is  Sleep as Android (Free). It's an alarm clock with a sleep cycle tracker. It features a sleep graph history, as well sleep deficit and deep sleep statistics.

The Eatery, available on iOS only (Free), is a food tracker. In addition to counting calories, it lets a user snap pictures of food and rates the general healthfulness of particular meals. Users can post images and ask friends who also use the app to leave comments. From self-reported information, the user receives personalized insights into their eating habits over the span of a week. Calorific by Noom Inc. for iOS and Android (Free) is an alternative that gives you a food library to record calories, and assigns foods various colors depending on how they impact a user's health.

Do you have any favorite heart-related mobile or tablet apps? Share them with in the comments section of this story.

---Information from PC World and Today's Dietitian was used in this report.

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