Optimize my Apple watch?
December 16, 2016 6:58 AM   Subscribe

How do you use your Apple watch as a health tracker? I need help optimizing and personalizing mine. I find the apps confusing and thought I would at minimum get a pedometer out of it. All the googling in the world has not helped me figure this out.

I impulse-purchased an Apple watch yesterday. I rationalized it in the moment because I have been meaning to get both a fitbit and a watch. Also, the cost was less than normal because I also got a new phone (iPhone 7) at the same time. I am starting to wonder if I just wasted a bunch of money, because I don't think the watch works the way I want it to. Will you help me set up a game plan (and figure out how to make the technology work for said plan) based on working with what I have?

I used to have a fitbit, but it died after less than 6 months. It was a basic flex model, and I liked both the pedometer aspect as well as the sleep measurement. I spent a lot of time googling around last night trying to figure out how to use the apple watch as a pedometer, but have not yet succeeded.

So my plan now, for which I seek your guidance, gentle reader, is to either/and/both/or:

1) Force the watch to measure and monitor steps without having to use the phone in a pocket. Can I do this? How?
2) Figure out an alternate plan to increase my movement by actually buying in to the prompts for apple's new Activity app and actually its entire approach to wellness. If I can't use the watch as a pedometer, how can it help me with an exercise/fitness plan instead?
3) Figure out what the ideal setup and plan is for me to integrate the various health apps (Activity, Health, pedometer and/or other 3rd party apps such as Stepz, Breathe, Workout, etc). What else do I need to do other than the exercise portion? All the different apps are overwhelming.
4) Identify what the added value is to the watch (so I can enjoy it rather than be eternally annoyed at myself for the impulsive nature of the purchase). This is a "rah rah, i love my apple watch because...." request.

Extra considerations for you:
1) Watch is Series 2, so waterproof and swimming appropriate, if I want to consider that exercise approach.
2) My goals are to incorporate healthy practices including some kind of exercise appropriate for a person with bad joints, mindfulness, managing my eating (calorie intake/hunger/emotions), connections with people, sleep and etc.
3) I am recovering from a knee surgery and will likely need a full knee replacement at some point, so that's a big factor.
4) I do not belong to a gym, and right now am pretty sedentary.
5) I have healthy eating habits mostly in place, but am struggling with some backsliding recently.
6) I have lost ~35-40 lbs since May, but have been in a big plateau. For my joints' sakes, I would like to lose 40ish more.
7) Also for my joints, I need to do PT and build muscle.
8) I am on a roll with some major life changes in the last couple of years, including having quit smoking (one year anniversary, yay!), cut way down on alcohol, overhauled my eating habits, addressed/managed a strong bout of anxiety/depression, etc. Next up is supposed to be body conditioning while maintaining all of the above.

OK, thanks so much. I know that's a lot of specific constraints, so please do not hesitate to make suggestions that do not meet every single need I have. I'll figure it out, I just need ideas that I don't have right now and some troubleshooting help.
posted by Stewriffic to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have an Apple Watch First Gen and (mostly) like it. I was also motivated by fitness tracking considerations.

Step count without the phone is something it should do...

Here's what I would suggest as a game plan:

- sit down and play with the thing. I don't know if you've had an iPhone and/or iPad before, but having some familiarity with the iOS "vocabulary" is going to help with the frustration factor. But even if you are familiar, it does a lot of things differently. If you can get familiar with how it works generally, it will help dial in the fitness pieces.

- particularly focus, especially at first, on the activity tracker (icon is 3 concentric rings, red, green, blue). Learn your way around this one - it's got your step counter in it, and there is no intervention required to have it count steps - it does it automatically in the background.

If you focus on using the activity tracker, I think you'll find that the 3 rings hit a lot of basic activity goals:

- blue inner circle - standing. Default goal is that you get up and walk a little at least 12 times, over 12 different hours of the day.
- green middle circle - aerobic activity. Default goal is kind of high if you're sedentary - I think it's 45 minutes of having your heart rate up (which it also measures periodically and automatically). This one you might want to adjust to 20 or 30 and work up.
- red outer circle - amount of activity over the course of the day. Longer duration expected, lower intensity. Mostly driven by step data over time, I think.

There is also a green icon on the home screen with an image of a walker/runner. This is the workout tracker. Learn your way around this as well, and start it when you are doing a timed workout that you expect will elevate your heart rate. It will ensure that the HR monitor is staying on all the time and give you some additional workout statistics, such as distance walked in an outdoor walk. Be sure to stop the workout when you're done and exit the app - it's a battery drainer.

If you use diet/intake apps like Myfitnesspal, there are some interconnections (so that your activity data flows to the calorie data), and the health app in the phone will show you historical HR data, etc.

I'd learn the stock apps and the watch pretty well before going on to looking at 3rd party apps - the apps from apple are pretty good for the basics.

- one thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the controls and fine tuning (but not all) involve using the iPhone. The Watch, Activity, and Health apps on the iPhone all communicate data back and forth with the watch via bluetooth, and it's often easier (and in some cases only possible) to really see the data on the phone. One thing I wish is that they also had a browser based view of some of this stuff, but maybe one day...

Feel free to PM me if you have a specific "how-you-do-this" question and can't find the answer - I'll see what I can do.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:51 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey I've had knee surgery a year ago (ACL reconstruction) and have recently bought an apple watch which I'm still figuring out too so will watch this thread with interest.

The standing element of the activity checker on the watch has been invaluable for me as my knee gets really stiff when sitting. Before the watch I had timers on my phone and PC which I would often ignore but because the watch only prompts you when you haven't stood for an hour, its much harder to ignore and I'm noticing I'm considerably more comfortable since I got it.

I'll admit that I tend to be in range of my phone for most of the day but I haven't noticed the watch not working as a pedometer - it certainly seems to be feeding Pacer (the pedometer app i have on my phone) rather than the other way around as I'll often leave the phone on the desk when I walk around and my daily steps have gone up since I got the watch. I'm curious as to why yours isnt working as a pedometer because mine certainly seems to.

I think the key to using it as a wellbeing tool is to allow the 'activity' app on watch and phone to be a little vague, holistic. Its watching and it's egging you on and it does it gently and simply. Then if you want to get more technical, dig into the data its sending to the health app via other apps - I haven't really done this yet, im kind of enjoying the simplified approach the activity app takes.

I've decided that the watch is entirely unnecessary, yet I love it and don't regret getting it, the improvements I've felt with my knee as a result of the standing prompts have been worth the price alone.
posted by Ness at 7:53 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and it was my husband that gave me the push I needed when I was worrying about the cost of buying one - he said 'you know that any mans watch worth buying costs more than one of those things dont you?'
posted by Ness at 8:01 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Heck, you don't even need the watch to count steps. Load the Health app on your phone and go to "Activity". Unless you messed with the privacy settings, it's already counting your steps (if you have a 6 or better, I think).
posted by neckro23 at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2016

This is a "rah rah, i love my apple watch because...." request.

- Easier to follow directions from maps than on phone
- Tap to pay with Apple Pay, especially if you live in a city like London where the buses and trains are set up for it, reliable and fast
- SMS notifications suit the wrist glance format, easy to reply 'OK' or 'yes' etc
- Mindfulness 'Breathe' app is quite helpful, sport and workout stuff also good
- Bluetooth headphones for music while working out, without the phone strapped to you
- Battery always lasts me a full day

It's not the game changer product Apple perhaps once might have made, but it is well worth the money for the sport version (to which you can add a nice leather or metal strap from third party suppliers on eBay at a fraction of the cost of Apple fancy ones).
posted by Coda Tronca at 8:48 AM on December 16, 2016

I neglected the "love my Apple watch because" part of the question - biggest thing other than activity tracking that I like that I didn't expect to is that I can feel the haptic pulses when a call comes in, whereas I don't always notice/feel them with the phone (because it's not strapped to me). I don't like having my ringer on, ever, so this has saved me some missed calls.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2016

Just a heads up about the green (exercise) activity ring: on my watch, it doesn't do a good job measuring incidental exercise, but is ok if I tell it I'm doing exercise through the workout app. (For example, if I bike to work and forget to set a workout, I get basically no green ring points, but if I say I'm doing an open cycle workout, then I get green ring action. It's possible my watch is flaky.)

I really like the "open workout" choice--you can ask Siri to start a walk workout, say, and then it will track how long and how far you walk. (Which is nice if you want to know how far it is to the store, say.)
posted by leahwrenn at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is the confusion about the pedometer because none of the watch complications show steps? To see your steps on the watch, press the crown, select activity, scroll up from the bottom and you'll see total steps and distance travelled today.
posted by Ness at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I got my Series 2 watch about 3 weeks ago so I am still in the honeymoon phase.

Other people have mentioned how to find the step count - I'm really surprised it's not more readily visible.

- Apple Pay is proof that look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. I can pay for things at my supermarket by tapping my wrist against a console.

- I can check texts and emails and see who's calling me without having to pull out my phone

- It reminds me to stand up every hour I'm awake, and reminds me to drink some water (WaterMinder app)

- I can load up a playlist on it and listen to it on bluetooth headphones, no need to use my phone (handy when I'm wearing something with no pockets)

- I can set up my phone to take a picture, and use the watch to show me how the picture will look

- iTranslate app - you can say or write something into it in English, and it will translate it into any one of a number of different languages, and vice versa.

Those are the big ones for me, right now.
posted by Lucinda at 10:40 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, this is cool, I appreciate all your comments so far. Part of the problem is that Activity didn't register any steps for me, and even now has not registered accurately. I have been walking around a LOT today, almost all day, in fact, but it has registered 2000 steps. So at first before it showed any steps, I thought that it just didn't work unless it got the data from the phone.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:56 AM on December 16, 2016

Is it tight enough? Do you move your arms while walking?
posted by Night_owl at 3:16 PM on December 16, 2016

Apple wants you to calibrate the watch by doing a 20 minute walk exercise activity in the activity app.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, I calibrated the watch, and it looks like things are getting better. Transitions, man. Thanks, all.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2016

HealthFace was just released yesterday, which allows you to display almost any health information (including steps taken) on your watch face as a complication.
posted by Lucinda at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2016

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