smartphone2Cardiovascular research? There’s a new app for that.

Stanford University School of Medicine has launched MyHeart Counts, a free iPhone app that can provide users with heart-healthy tips from the American Heart Association while also gathering data that will help researchers study various aspects of cardiovascular care.

The app uses the smartphone’s built-in motion sensors to track physical activity. Users also are asked to provide information about their lifestyle and risk factors. In return, they will receive feedback, often in the form of tips from AHA tools such as My Life Check and Heart360.

“With smartphones already in our hand or pocket all the time, we have an opportunity to get a much richer and more real-world assessment of how active people are,” said Dr. Michael V. McConnell, the Stanford University Medical Center, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and the principal investigator of the MyHeart Counts study.

MyHeart Counts can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. On-screen prompts walk users through the consent process and uploading of other information. A walking test and various lab results will help the system make an initial evaluation of the user’s heart health. The app will continue to track a user’s activities, and users will be asked to answer occasional survey questions. Other wearable devices can be paired with the app, providing more detailed information.

“We’re trying to make it as easy to use as possible with the goal that we can try to engage as many people as possible can participate,” McConnell said.

Stanford researchers say the data will be stored in a secure database, with each participant’s name replaced by a random code. The coded, encrypted data will be compiled with the same from other users to produce the type of comprehensive data that is at the core of medical research.

A few important notes: Participants must be at least 18 years old, live in the United States and have an iPhone 5s, 6 or 6 Plus. Also, the program is currently available only in English.

MyHeart Counts was introduced Monday as part of Apple’s new ResearchKit framework, an open-source platform designed to make it easier for researchers to connect with participants in medical studies. Just as Stanford is a lead laboratory for cardiovascular disease, other prominent universities are doing the same for asthma, breast cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.