4 evidence-based benefits of health-related mobile apps

The Bottom Line

  • Health-related mobile apps are available and aplenty!
  • Mobile apps have the potential to improve weight management in people with chronic diseases, enhance blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes, reduce depressive symptoms in older adults with depressive symptoms or disorders, and increase physical activity levels.
  • More research is needed around the long-term safety and effectiveness of mobile health apps.
  • Be sure to do your “homework” on apps you are interested in and consult with your health care team prior to using them.    

When was the last time you “visited” your app store or scrolled through the apps on your mobile device? Weather. News. Social Media. Podcasts. Movies. Games. From staying up to date on the latest world happenings to staying entertained, there seems to be an app that can help us satisfy many of our needs and wants. But what about health? Are there apps that can help us achieve our health goals and support us on our journey to greater well-being? Turns out, there are apps for that too! Here are a few of the research-based benefits of using health-related mobile apps. Click on the links below to learn more.

1. Weight management

In adults living with a chronic disease, the use of dietary mobile apps may help reduce caloric intake, weight, and waist circumference (aka waistline) in the short-term (6 months or less). Self-monitoring capabilities, in-app counselling, and the integration of behavioural change theory are common features of apps that lead to successful results (1).

2. Better blood sugar control

In people with type 2 diabetes, mobile apps for lifestyle modification can help decrease average blood sugar levels in the short-term (3-6 months) and long-term (9-12 months). Folks with type 1 diabetes or pre-diabetes do not appear to benefit in the same way (2).

3. Enhanced mental well-being

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one strategy that is easily adaptable to a virtual setting and remote delivery. In community-dwelling older adults with depressive symptoms or disorders, internet-based CBT may reduce depressive symptoms (3). Mobile apps are one way of delivering internet-based CBT.

4. Getting more exercise

Gamified smartphone apps are apps that incorporate game-like features. These types of apps may help folks boost their physical activity levels, specifically walking and step count. Common game-like features in apps that lead to success include leaderboards, social networking, and rewards, but more research is needed to solidify which features are best (4).

Things of note: While mobile apps appear to be a promising strategy for improving some aspects of our health and well-being, more research is needed to provide clarity around their long-term effectiveness and safety (1-4). What is more, not all apps are created equal; cost, rigorous testing and evaluation, features, user satisfaction, and more differ across apps. Always research an app and consult your health care team prior to incorporating it into your health and wellness plan.  

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Author Details


  1. El Khoury C, Karavetian M, Halfens RJG, et al. The effects of dietary mobile apps on nutritional outcomes in adults with chronic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019; 119(4):626-651. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.11.010.
  2. Wu X, Guo X, Zhang Z. The efficacy of mobile phone apps for lifestyle modification in diabetes: Systematic review and meta-analysis. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019; 7:e12297. doi: 10.2196/12297.
  3. Goodarzi Z, Watt J, Kirkham J, et al. Depression in community residing elders (DIRE): A rapid review of depression telemedicine interventions for older adults living in the community. CIHR. 2020.
  4. Yang Y, Hu H, Koenigstorfer J. Effects of gamified smartphone applications on physical activity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Prev Med. 2022; 62(4):602-613. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2021.10.005.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.