Track­ing ac­tiv­ity with Ap­ple Watch

Built-in health and fit­ness fea­tures plus third-party apps make it worth a look

Mac Format - - FITNESS TECH -

Ap­ple Watch is billed as a mul­ti­func­tion smart­watch that aug­ments your iPhone, but look be­yond its Siri, mes­sage and call fea­tures, and Ap­ple’s time­piece also has plenty of health and fit­ness smarts. It comes with an ac­celerom­e­ter, gy­ro­scope and op­ti­cal heart rate sen­sors, which feed data into its na­tive Ac­tiv­ity app (as well as the iOS Health app) and com­bine to track your move­ment through the day. Ac­tiv­ity di­vides this data into three met­rics called Move, Ex­er­cise and Stand, shown on-screen as three con­cen­tric rings that ex­tend as you close in on an ad­justable calo­rie burn goal (1,000 a day, say).

The Stand ring shows how of­ten you’ve stood up to take a break from sit­ting; the Watch sub­tly vi­brates if you’ve been idle for an hour to get you mov­ing again. It’s a fea­ture shared by many wear­ables such as the Jaw­bone UP – and a wel­come one, given the grow­ing body of ev­i­dence show­ing the health haz­ards of too much sit­ting. Any ac­tiv­ity counts to­wards your Move goal, but the Ex­er­cise ring mon­i­tors your heart rate to reg­is­ter only brisk ac­tiv­ity. You can’t ad­just the 30 min­utes’ ex­er­cise goal, but the ring con­tin­ues be­yond a sin­gle loop and you re­ceive re­wards for dou­bling or tripling it in one day.

There’s a sep­a­rate Work­out app for run­ning, cy­cling, row­ing and el­lip­ti­cal ma­chine rou­tines that keeps track of pace, dis­tance, heart rate and calo­ries burned. One thing the Watch is miss­ing is GPS, so if you want to track your route or el­e­va­tion you have to take your iPhone along for the ride. The good news is that this doesn’t stop the Watch from track­ing dis­tance, as it cal­i­brates this data based on stride and ca­dence.

Watch lim­i­ta­tions

Two things limit the Ap­ple Watch’s ap­peal as a health and fit­ness de­vice. One is that it usu­ally needs to be taken off and charged overnight, so sleep track­ing is largely a no go. Hav­ing enough qual­ity sleep is im­por­tant for over­all health, so if you buy Ap­ple Watch, we rec­om­mend a sep­a­rate sleep track­ing so­lu­tion, ei­ther via a sim­ple iPhone app or with a de­vice such as the Bed­dit sen­sor (£105, bed­dit.com).

The other lim­i­ta­tion is its lack of data anal­y­sis: weekly ac­tiv­ity sum­maries sim­ply state whether you achieved your goals, but of­fer no ad­vice or en­cour­age­ment if you didn’t. Thank­fully, watchOS 2 grants sen­sor ac­cess to third-par­ties, and most of the iOS apps men­tioned in this fea­ture also of­fer Watch ex­ten­sion apps or ‘com­pli­ca­tions’ that do a far bet­ter job. Life­sum, for ex­am­ple, lets you log your di­etary in­take from your wrist and its com­pli­ca­tion tells you when you should eat, drink or ex­er­cise through­out the day. Run­tas­tic now reads your heart rate, re­turn­ing richer data than the Work­out app. Else­where, Gyma­holic (Free, gyma­holic.me) tracks weight train­ing reps and sets, lets you edit work­outs on your Watch and feeds back alerts if your heart rate spikes; Trails (Free, trails.io) lets you cre­ate way­points when track­ing any out­door ac­tiv­ity; and Cy­cles (Free, perigee.se) uses an Ac­tiv­ity-style ring to help track men­stru­a­tion, while its com­pli­ca­tion helps women keep an eye on their fer­til­ity win­dow.

In fact, more and more health and fit­ness apps are sup­port­ing Ap­ple Watch by the day, so be sure to check the App Store to see what’s new.

There’s a sep­a­rate Work­out app for run­ning, cy­cling, row­ing and el­lip­ti­cal ma­chine rou­tines

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