Tracking activity with Apple Watch
Built-in health and fitness features plus third-party apps make it worth a look
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.
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