This is the world's most popular health and fitness app - and it has nothing to do with working out

New data shows that the much-loved app has been downloaded more than 100 million times worldwide

A woman in workout wear looks at a health and fitness app on her mobile phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If there's one thing most of us learned from the pandemic, it's that we rely on our smartphones for maintaining relationships, keeping up to date with work, and, importantly, working out. 

Over the past 18 months, you've probably used one of the best fitness apps to workout from home, while on vacation, or to complement your existing training program. These apps often offer personalized exercise routines, include video tutorials, and even help you track your progress and monitor your food intake. 

However, new research from the mobile analytics company App Annie has shown that the top health and fitness app actually has nothing to do with diet or exercise. 

In August 2021, Calm - the mental health app that aims to help users sleep better, lower stress levels and suffer less anxiety - surpassed 100 million downloads, becoming the most downloaded meditation app worldwide and the top-grossing health and fitness app on Android and iOS smartphones. 

It's perhaps unsurprising, given the mental strains and challenges the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it. Indeed, a recent report cited a jump in the average share of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression from 11% between January and June 2010 to 41% in January 2021.

Mobile screenshots showing some of the meditation features of the Calm app

(Image credit: Calm)

Unsurprisingly, throughout 2020, we increasingly turned to the digital mindfulness service to deal with the fear and uncertainty of the unfolding global pandemic. Although Calm is known for its guided meditations, it also offers sleep stories, breathing exercises, and mindfulness masterclasses. If you're after some tranquility, you can use the app's nature scenes and sounds, as well as original music, to help you relax, focus, and sleep.

The positive effects of meditation are well-documented too. For example, research published in 2014 found that a regular practice resulted in a reduction of "multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress." Meanwhile, a separate study showed that 15 minutes of meditation is almost as effective in boosting our wellbeing as a vacation. 

If you haven't meditated before, check out our guide on how to meditate. Alternatively, for 10 top tips to boost your mental health, watch the IGTV post from the @wearefitandwell Instagram page.

The calming influence of meditation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and stops your body from releasing stress hormones like cortisol. There are clear benefits to reducing stress levels, but it also helps lower blood pressure and heart rate while improving your energy levels and helping you sleep better. Given the clear benefits of a regular meditation practice, it's no wonder that Calm has been so popular in recent years.

If you're looking for an alternative, there are many other ways to develop a mindfulness habit. Some people find lacing up the best shoes for walking and heading outside to offer similar benefits. Likewise, yoga is often referred to as moving meditation, helping you focus on your body and the present moment. Curious? Grab one of the best yoga mats and try out an online or in-studio yoga class. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.