How I Finally Embraced the Apple Watch as a Fitness Tracker

Originally published at: How I Finally Embraced the Apple Watch as a Fitness Tracker - TidBITS

Despite owning an Apple Watch from the beginning, Josh Centers didn’t get much use from its fitness-tracking capabilities until he gave up on Apple’s software.

  • Exercise: Apple says the green Exercise ring measures how many minutes of “brisk activity” you’ve done, but it doesn’t go into specifics. We think it’s a combination of movement and heart rate.

It is while you are using a workout app on the watch. While you are not doing a workout, heart rate is not considered (mostly because heart rate is only measured roughy every 5 minutes.) While you are not in a workout, the watch estimates activity based on arm movement. You need to be moving at the equivalent of a “brisk pace” in order to get a minutes from the green ring; in my experience, at least for me, that means walking at a pace of about 19:00/mile. I also get credit for things like shoveling snow, etc., but if you are doing something that does not involve moving your arms, you may not get credit unless you are using a workout app.

Triggering a workout seems to get the Exercise ring to fill more consistently, but it will fill without it.

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I am curious about your smart scale. I have not had good luck with the couple I have tried. Which one are you using? Thanks.

I’ve found, when doing a workout or activity that isn’t historically tracked by the Apple Watch, that starting an Open activity has led to the AW logging it as an activity towards closing my rings. Funny thing, I got so ring focused that I wasn’t wearing my nice watches as much as I wanted to and have ended up buying Apple Watch sweat band to wear it on my ankle when not on my wrist. Really haven’t been using it as such, just wearing the AW on my opposite wrist more often than not. Seem to have gotten used to it that way.

Yes, that’s true. You can start an “Other” workout and take a nap and every minute of the “workout” will count toward your green ring.

For me, the purpose of the green ring is to actually measure brisk activity, so I’m fine with it the way it’s designed. It’s not a perfect measure, but it is more perfect than the Stand ring, which I consider of no value to me at all. (You can sit in a chair and swing your arm back and forth for a minute and get credit for “standing” and moving for that hour.) I think that it would be far more valuable to count total stand minutes in a day, with at least a 60 minute goal for a day.

When I first heard of Stand I thought it a great idea to remind me to move occasionally, but the implementation was so bad I turned it off years ago. I remember I was standing rinsing dishes for ten minutes, after doing some other activity, and I finally went and collapsed into a chair to rest, and about 15 seconds later the watch buzzed and told me I needed to stand up! :man_facepalming:t3:

Utterly idiotic and pointless.

I consider most of the other watch fitness features to be almost as bad. Everyone has different levels of what they consider activity – my 81-year-old mother is quite different from a teenager, yet watch treats everyone the same.

I have a bad knee (torn ACL) so “activity” for me is walking my dog a mile or two. Despite steep hills and a dog that wants to run, watch never sees that as me being active unless I start a Workout. So dumb. There should be a preference setting for activity level.

Well, that certainly was a comprehensive overview!

I use the Apple Watch (Series 2) to track workouts (mostly walks) and calories. I like to synch my calories with MyFitnessPal. While the workouts synch, the Move calories, which, as you point out are really your calories above BMR, don’t automatically synch. So I open the Fitness app on my iPhone multiple times a day to see the current Move calories, enter those into MFP, and delete the workouts that synched. That way, I believe I have the most accurate calories listed for weight loss, and it includes housework and playing with my dog, etc.

I’ve been successful doing this, and am down 140 lb now to 144 lb, a BMI of 21.6.

My one gripe is that the power drains relatively quickly when doing walking workouts on the Watch. If I don’t top up the battery during lunch I might get dangerously low in the early evening. I wonder if later versions of the Watch are better about battery life.

Personally I use a Withing WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer. I think there have been one or two revisions since I got this almost 8 years ago. Weight, body fat % (not really reliable), HR (through your feet of all things, fails maybe 30% of the time). Readings get synced via WiFi to the Withings site and from there on to where I really need them, Garmin Connect, my Garmin devices, and several other sites.

As a cyclist with an Apple Watch (currently a 7), I’ve notice that the watch actually avoids taking HR readings during rides. I’m using much better devices to record rides (Garmin Edge 830, chest HR belt, other ANT+ sensors) anyway so I don’t really mind, but I do notice the gap in my HR readings in Health. I’m not at all interested in sleep tracking (tried once with a Withings Pulse, didn’t find the data at all useful), stay as far away as possible from the rings. When cross country skiing, which I’ve had a chance to do quite a bit in the last month, I leave my Apple Watch at home and use my Garmin Fenix 5+.

If you’re using a Series 2 watch, it’s probably a few years old and the battery might not be performing as well as when the watch was new. I have a Series 4, and it lasts comfortably through the day while tracking walks.

It’s actually less than 6 months old. I had a Series 1 under monthly warranty and something went wrong with it and Apple offered this one instead since they couldn’t find any Series 1s. So it’s pretty new.

I’ve been using the Eufy BodySense, which is a few years old at this point. It looks like Eufy no longer sells that exact model, but they offer the Smart Scale P1, which looks practically identical.

On my Series 1 WatchOS 6 ($199) I had to use open instead of Outdoor Walk. Elliptical and Rower worked fine. I upgraded to a Series 6 ($289) with WatchOS 7 and now 8 and Outdoor Walk now records all my exercise, even if I’m going too slow. Pretty sure heart rate works as it aligns with our Precore elliptical. If something ever happened to my watch I would immediately replace it. I use it in too many ways every day. I could do without a cell phone, but not my watch. I buy new watches but during Mother’s and Father’s day you can often find smoking hot deals. I have my family wearing a watch for soooo many reasons (husband: exercise, apple pay, alarms, weather, son: text/cell call alerts, fall detection, weather, timers, alarms, me: alarms, timers, exercise, text/cell alerts, water tracking)

Thank you. I was using the Withings Body Scale, but it never seemed to connect to my WiFi network in a reliable fashion. I then purchased a Wyze scale but I am unhappy with the readings on the scale. It only gives me weight and never the percentage. And I do not know whether that percentage was body fat or water weight. I will look into the Eufy scale.

My wife and I haven’t gotten into exercise apps (beyond what Apple offers on the iPhone) because we don’t trust the underlying data supplied by the watch. I have an Watch SE and go on 4 mile morning walks on a mostly flat route. Looking at the watch, heart rate seems to respond to uphill and downhill portions of my walk. But after the walk, looking at the heart rate graph shows lots of time periods with no data, and sharp up and down heart rates - some as high as 113 bpm (which I would notice if they occurred). It does track my path and give me movement credit. But that’s all. My wife (Watch 5) tells me it doesn’t give her credit for her walks (maybe she isn’t walking fast enough). And when she is at the gym, with a vigorous exercise routine, the watch doesn’t capture any calorie credit for the work. We are both healthy seniors so we don’t have a need for more measurements - but frankly wouldn’t trust the data these apps might report.

Yep. I sometimes juggle for fun. When I’m standing in place and doing the most basic juggling move, the Watch tells me I’m burning about 10 calories per minute.

Sorry to be late to the party here, but Josh’s article, as well as many of the comments here, seem to point out a common misconception (in my experience) about activity tracking on the  Watch.

It’s really pretty simple: if you want your activity to be recorded when “working out”, you need to start a workout in the Workouts app! That’s the only way to get the watch to ‘pay attention’ to the degree that you want it to! Then, and mostly only then, will it give you the ‘credit’ you’re looking for when working out. This makes sense, especially, as someone else pointed out above, when you understand how much less the watch “pays attention” when you’re not doing a specific workout (like the less frequent heart rate measurement, for example).

Folks that are frustrated that their rings aren’t closing when they aren’t doing workouts with the Workout app are simply misunderstanding how the watch is designed. In today’s world, it’s understandable that we might expect more from the watch, but it’s never promised that kind of capability!

I’ve had every model since the first, and have always used it as I describe above, with results that seem more than adequate. And honestly, the  Watch has done more to help me create a meaningful workout routine than anything else in my 60+ years!

To be fair, there are still plenty of aspects of the watch that drive me crazy (like the worthlessness of the Stand goal for someone like me who rarely sits), but if you rethink how you’re using the Activity function, I think you’ll find it finally makes sense, and actually works!

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