Apple Watch is fitness delivered to your wrist
Even with its iPhone-only proclivities, the Apple Watch is already the undisputed leader of the smartwatch world, but with Apple adding layers upon layers of fitness features with each iteration, particularly with the latest watchOS 7, most people barely scratch the surface of what an Apple Watch can do. If you’re interested in using your Apple Watch to unlock some all-round fitness, here’s my round up of the best Apple Watch features for keeping you moving and motivated (including how to use them). Before we begin, if you’re just picking up a new Apple Watch, this primer on the Activity and Workout apps is a great starting point.
Listen to your Heart
Your heart is, quite literally, the heart of fitness tracking capabilities on the Apple Watch, and the wearable gives you a ton of information on how it’s doing. Tap the red heart app icon on your watch to fire up the Heart Rate app, where you can see your current heart rate, resting heart rate and walking heart rate measured over the span of the day, all key to assembling a big picture on your cardio health.
When you switch to the Workout app, Apple Watch switches to continuous measurement mode during the workout and for 3 minutes after the workout ends, to calculate your workout “recovery rate”. All this data, along with accelerometer and elevation gain data, is then broken down to estimate how many calories you’ve burned.
You can even turn on heart rate notifications via the heart rate section on the companion Watch app, which will notify you when your heart rate is detected lower or higher than what you set your thresholds to be. For instance, if you’re sitting and possibly deeply engrossed in work – and not moving around as one would associate with a workout - Apple Watch will alert you if your heart rate goes past the threshold. On your iPhone, open the Apple Watch app, tap the Heart settings and set a BPM for High Heart Rate and Low Heart Rate. Particularly handy for identifying high-stress situations, a sign you need to take a break. While you’re on the Heart settings, enable ‘Irregular Rhythm Notifications’, which will have Apple Watch keep an eye on your heartbeat for an irregular rhythm that might be suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Every Breath You Take
Measuring your blood oxygen is a marquee feature on the new Apple Watch Series 6. The built-in SpO2 sensor checks your blood oxygen levels, which can be viewed either directly via the Blood Oxygen app on the Series 6 or via the Blood Oxygen metric on the Health app. A recent addition to fitness tracking is VO2 Max, which appears as a metric in the Health app. For the uninitiated, VO2 Max refers to the amount of oxygen your blood can carry, so the more it is, the fitter you are. It’s considered one of the best overall assessments of your fitness. With the Apple Watch, the feature isn’t limited only to those who are out and about doing GPS-tracked workouts – the Apple Watch can estimate your cardio fitness at lower VO2 Max ranges as well so that people starting off on their fitness journeys can look at the assessment and work towards improving their score.
Setting up cardio fitness levels is simply a matter of opening the Health app, reviewing your ‘Health Checklist’ and setting up the ‘Cardio Fitness Levels’ metric. It’s strictly opt-in, so you will need to confirm your age, weight, gender, height and whether you’re taking any medications that might impact your cardio fitness.
This is where you’ll see your last recorded VO2 Max level, and how it stacks up with people your age, and you can choose to be notified once in four months if you’re deemed to have dangerously low cardio fitness. If you want to check your latest VO2 max measurements or see how it’s changed over time, open the “Health” app, tap “Browse,” then “Heart,” and finally, “Cardio Fitness.” The Watch will passively track your VO2 Max over time, but if you want to refresh the reading, you can head out for an outdoor walk, run, or hike that lasts longer than 20 minutes using the Workout app.
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Poor sleep can undermine the best laid fitness plans, and with the release of watchOS 7, the Apple Watch now natively tracks sleep. You’ll need to set up Bedtime mode on the Sleep app on the Watch, or you can open the Health app on iPhone, tap Browse, tap Sleep, then tap Get Started (under Set Up Sleep). Bedtime mode will put your iPhone and Watch into a wind-down mode before your specified bedtime, and you’ll be shown your sleep history when you arise in the morning. Now, sleep tracking isn’t as detailed on the Apple Watch as some might want it to be – it only tracks time asleep and the consistency with which you hit your target bed time, but it misses some tricks on sleep stage tracking and quality of sleep – so you might want to try out apps like Pillow and Auto Sleep as well, which do a decent job in monitoring sleep patterns and revealing trends about your zzzs.
It’s all very well when you’re out on a workout, but what if you miss a step and take a fall? Apple’s much-vaunted fall detection feature has been around since the Series 4, but the feature isnt actually turned on by default, unless you’re over 65 years old. To enable it no matter what your age is, head over to the Watch app on your iPhone, go through to Emergency SOS and turn on the Fall Detection option. Granted, if you’re fairly physically active, you may trigger a few false positives, but the tradeoff – of alerting your emergency contacts and emergency services when you do take an actual fall – are well worth it!
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar