The best health and wellness apps for 2021

Bill Mount

After a year of pandemic-induced stress on top of, you know, regular ol’ stress, my brain sometimes feels like a never-ending buzz of nonsense. It’s like the Bee Movie in there.  I’m not the only one; plenty of people have spent the last year having trouble focusing at work and […]

After a year of pandemic-induced stress on top of, you know, regular ol’ stress, my brain sometimes feels like a never-ending buzz of nonsense. It’s like the Bee Movie in there. 

I’m not the only one; plenty of people have spent the last year having trouble focusing at work and during leisure time, struggling to find motivation to exercise and move their bodies, or initiate social activities, whether socially distanced or fully virtual. Keeping ourselves healthy has become a unique struggle. 

We all desperately need these things to keep up our overall wellness, but it’s safe to say a global pandemic completely changed how we can accomplish these tasks. While a lot of us yearn for the olden days, a year indoors also let a lot of us explore app-based wellness in a way we never would have. 

Below, I crowd-sourced a variety of well-loved health and wellness apps, focusing on everything from physical to emotional and mental health. While a lot of these users found the apps during the pandemic, they plan to keep using them even after we can go to yoga studios and meet up mask-less again. And hey, in a perfect world, we can do both. So here’s to that future! 

Best physical wellness apps 

Physical wellness encompasses many aspects, including exercise, sleep, food plans, and bodily function tracking, like periods. Depending on your goals for your physical health, each app here focuses on different ways to stay in tune with your body. 

Peloton Fitness, $12.99/month

peloton fitness review

Image: screenshot: app store/peloton

Easily the most recommended fitness app that I came across, the Peloton app is the lowest cost entry into the Peloton cult community. The app offers trainer-led, studio-style workouts that users can tune into live or on demand, and watch from various devices, like an Apple TV, Apple Watch, Roku, Chromecast and others. The app can be purchased on its own or comes as part of an all-access membership for those with Peloton bikes. 

“[It] offers a whole bunch of different classes and different levels for everybody,” said user Seth Nadel. “[It has] great music and you can get really involved in the community of it all, [and] they always have programs that you can follow.”

Nike Training Club, Free

nike training club review

nike training club review

Image: screenshot: app store/Nike

Nike is known in the fitness space for a reason, and the Training app doesn’t disappoint. It offers more than 185 free workouts, which includes yoga, HIIT, boxing, strength, endurance, and mobility routines. The app used to have a premium paid version, but Nike eliminated the cost barrier at the start of the pandemic. It can also easily pair with Apple Watch. 

“I really like the way you can search by exercise type or focus,” said user Syd Stelzer. “There are a variety of lengths/targets for each workout (for example, 5 min yoga warmups, longer yoga with core workouts, or rest and recover), and there are trainer-led exercises as well as pre-loaded ones!”

Fitbit, Free or $9.99/month for Premium

fitbit app review

fitbit app review

Image: screenshot: app store/fitbit

While Fitbit does let you use the app without a wearable tracker for free, most users prefer the functions that pair with a device. It tracks sleep, steps, heart rate, and exercise minutes, among other metics, through the device or your phone. The app is available on iOS or Android, but Fitbit wearables are designed to optimally pair with Android phones. The free version comes with video and audio workouts, but paying for premium unlocks more than 240 workouts from several brands.

“I’m literally a ho for my Fitbit and the Fitbit app,” said user Grace Wade. “I like that it analyzes my sleep and I can track my period and my steps and my heart rate all in one place. [And] I don’t need my texts and apps all connected to it. I wanted it to be solely for health and fitness and sleep tracking and not just another way technology intrudes on my life.”

Flo Period Tracker & Calendar, Free or $10/month for Premium

flo period tracker review

flo period tracker review

Image: Screenshot: app store/Flo

Flo functions primarily as a period tracker and ovulation calculator, but also allows users to log lifestyle and fitness habits, like water intake, physical activity levels, and sex drive. 

“The thing I like the most is that you can tailor the experience to you,” said user Avery Dawes. “It takes your data over the course of several months to track your cycle and ovulation, so it can better understand what’s happening to you, what your hormone levels are at any given time. And I think that’s really helpful because most women don’t really have a textbook 28-day cycle. It’s also really helpful because I can track all the symptoms I have – whether that’s headaches, cramps, indigestion – and it gives you specific articles and advice for solutions and how normal it is.”

Natural Cycles, $9.99/month or $89.99/year

natural cycles app review

natural cycles app review

Image: screenshot: natural cycles

Another period and cycle tracker, Natural Cycles is unique in that it is FDA certified as a form of birth control. The app works with a basal thermometer and self reported metrics to form a holistic view of your cycle, emotions, and other mental and physical health traits. 

“I used to use the Apple Health tracker for my cycle,” said user Jacquelyn Tepper. “But I like how Natural Cycles is much more active in avoiding pregnancy rather than just tracking your cycle, which is what I was doing with Apple. One of the biggest simple differences is it has a note section at the end of each day and an emotion tracker. I feel like I have a lot of moods and I’m trying to use this to figure out if that’s cycle-related, if this is something that repeats and I can plan around that.”

SleepCycle, Free or $39.99/year for Premium

 

sleepcycle app review

sleepcycle app review

Image: screenshot: app store/sleepcycle

This app taps into your phone’s microphone to record and analyze your sleep sounds, whether that’s snoring, sleep talking, or general tossing and turning. And while that sounds a little creepy, having access to this info can help you really know how well you’re sleeping. 

I personally have used this app, and my favorite feature is its smart alarm system. Nothing is worse than the blare of an iPhone’s built-in alarm, and this app gently wakes you up with a library of soothing, gradual sounds. Plus, if you do want to snooze, you can just shake your phone rather than fumble around and possibly press the wrong button. 

Power Nap, $1.99

power nap app

power nap app

Image: screenshot: app store/Power nap

Ever laid down and promised yourself you would get up in 20 minutes, only to arise 4 hours later, confused what universe you’re in. We all have. Power Nap can help keep you accountable to useful nap times, with 20-minute (power nap), 45-minute (recovery nap), and 90-minute (one sleep cycle) options.

“[This] app allows me to make informed decisions about what I do in the day to maximize my sleep, and in doing so my body and mind can recover,” said user Noah Evangelides.

MyFitnessPal, Free

myfitnesspal review

myfitnesspal review

Image: screenshot: app store/myfitnesspal

Paying attention to the types of food you’re consuming can help lots of people be more mindful about their nutrition. But for some people, it’s not all about counting calories. MyFitnessPal can help analyze several nutritional elements of your food intake, help create recipes with your favorite foods,  and imports nutrition info from other recipes and restaurant menus. The app supports weight loss, gain, and maintenance goals. 

“I use MyFitnessPal as a means to understand what I am putting into my body and how it can affect my performance,” said user Evangelides. “It can be used to track macros and calories but I weigh what I eat, so I personally don’t pay as much attention to that feature.”

Best emotional and mental wellness apps

Emotions can be a lot to handle, and a busy schedule means a busy mind. The apps here helped users find a meditation routine that works for them, set goals, and check in with their feelings. 

Mooda, $0.99

mooda app review

mooda app review

Image: Screenshot:  App Store/mooda

For those just starting out with emotion tracking, you might not want an in-depth diary style app. Mooda gives a cute, minimalistic take to logging how you feel, by selecting the blob that reflects your emotions and entering in whatever you want to enter in the notes section. 

“[It has a ] super simple layout, and you can set a reminder to do your reflection,” said user Kayla Reardon. “Some mindfulness or daily reflection apps have too many prompts or sections, and this one is completely open for you to write as much or as little as you want. I just do quick notes about my day, but I have a friend that uses it for daily gratitude and affirmations instead.” 

The Pattern, Free 

the pattern app review

the pattern app review

Image: screenshot: app store/the pattern

Sometimes described as an astrology app, the Pattern takes – well, a pattern-based and spiritual approach to analyzing relationships. It allows you to track your individual emotions and shared experiences with others to connect on a deeper level. 

“One of my close friends introduced me to [this app]. It has helped me tremendously in overcoming my own self-made obstacles and mental hurdles,” said user Juan Cardenas. “It’s also brought some enlightenment to my life and has pushed me to be more forgiving to myself, self-aware, and has sparked a deeper sense of spirituality. I highly recommend it!” 

Stoic, Free or $37.99/year for Premium

stoic app review

stoic app review

Image: screenshot: app store/stoic

Stoic is a journaling app that helps users find their personal favorite reflection methods. It provides space for open journaling, unguided meditation and breathing, and thought exercises like the “Stoic interpretation of cognitive behavioral therapy” for negative thoughts.

“I personally like the black and white theme they have, I find it calming,” said user Robert Duciuc. “Also, there are multiple breathing exercises that also work on their Apple Watch app. I’ve noticed the app helps me track what’s important and what’s not on a daily basis while making me realize how I feel and why.” 

WOOP, Free

woop app review

woop app review

Image: screenshot: app store/Woop

WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan, and the app uses a science-based approach to goal setting. Another simple interface that encourages even the busiest people to take more mindful steps towards big goals, the app is geared towards predicting and planning for potential problems. 

“I actually learned about this app in one of my psychology classes, and the reason I like it is because it asks you to list the positive outcomes of your goals as well as the obstacles,” said user Chloe Krugel. “You can really envision yourself achieving the goal and think about the why, not just the what.”

Headspace, $12.99/month or $69.99/year

headspace review

headspace review

Image: screenshot: app store/headspace

Tried and true, Headspace has a plethora of meditation, focus, and sleep enhancing features. The app has a library of guided meditations geared towards specific goals, focus soundtracks for the workday, and calming sleep tracks and sleep stories. 

“I’m a physician and they gave us a free subscription in March 2020 [because of] Covid,” said user Gobind Gill. “It has really helped me accept things I can’t control like the pandemic, and focus on my tasks at work.” 

Calm, $14.99/month or $69.99/year

calm app review

calm app review

Image: screenshot: app store/calm

Similarly, Calm is a Headspace competitor. It also features guided meditations and educational techniques, but its sleep stories are often read by celebrity voices. If you’ve ever dreamed of being lulled to bed by Harry Styles’ sweet, sweet voice, I’m happy to tell you that some dreams do come true.

“I probably use the white noise soundtracks and nature sounds  on there to fall asleep almost every night,” said user Haley Peterson. “Their guided meditations are nice, especially because I can’t just meditate myself, I need guidance.” 

Insight Timer, Free

insight timer review

insight timer review

Image: screenshot: app store/insight timer

Insight Timer focuses on teaching meditation to those who don’t already know it, and it centralizes the teachings of several meditation types and experts, including Secular Mindfulness, Buddhist Mindfulness, Ze, Metta, and lots more. While these sound intimidating, the app breaks it down and allows you to tap into and follow your favorite teachers as you discover them.

“This app has a lot of options without dialogue! I think a lot of people see meditation as being spoken to, and sometimes I personally just need the right track of music,” said user Sarah Evans. “They have a lot of categories which clarify difference between soundscapes, music for sleeping, more guided meditation, etc., with really specific descriptions too. I enjoy trying to understand the different sound waves and how that impacts me” 

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