First year with an Apple Watch: A few hits, a few misses

First, a bit of context. When I purchased the Series 3 last year I was already in pretty good health. I was averaging about 9,500 steps for the year based on the Pacer app on my phone. My weight was about 176 which has been my usual for most past 15 years and about right given my height of 5’10". Dropping to 168 might be ideal, I just haven’t pushed for that. I started tracking steps and diet in 2014 because I had a few life changes at the time that led to dietary changes that led to a gain of about 22lbs over just a few months. I got that under control, lost 15lbs and then eventually lost the remaining 7. As of March 2017 I’ve hovered at my historical normal of 176.

Also, at the time I purchased the Apple Watch I had not been a regular watch wearer. Not for many years. My primary reasons for purchasing were Siri/Homekit, health tracking and for using with AirPods. In this latter intent, using for playback with AirPods it’s been perfect. It’s super nice to be able to playback music from the watch itself or control playback that I might be streaming from my iPhone. And now it’s not even just playback on the AirPods that can be controlled but also streaming from the iPhone to the HomePod. Siri has been excellent on the watch too. I expect all of this will be even better with the upcoming watchOS update.

My main gripe has been activity tracking. Overall it seems to track well. But it’s not without some problems. I’m 49 years old and have had a bad knee since I was a teen. It was better for a while then not so much. I’m not someone who can cycle or run. But I can walk and if I’m really careful I can handle a gentle jog. But my ideal is a vigorous walk. Within the first week with the AppleWatch I learned that I was walking to slow. Not surprising to me as my walking was more for enjoyment than working out. Yes, I considered it exercise and a part of being healthy but I didn’t consider it a workout. And the AppleWatch confirmed that. My green rings didn’t move much when I went out for my 2 daily walks which usually consisted of 2 miles each. During the first week with the watch I would look at the end of the day with 4 miles walked and I might have 10 minutes on the green ring. The red rings were closing based on the initial default of 420. So, I picked up my walking pace. I went from a casual dog walk to a brisk walk and without much trouble could close the green ring with just one 2 mile walk. Then I’d take it easier with my second walk.

At also learned that I could get a more accurate account by using the Outdoor Walk workout if I was cutting grass or walking the dogs because often in that case my arm was not moving back and forth as it normally would during a walk. But over the past few months I’ve been taking note of a few things that bug me.

In April, for the 2nd time in my life, I came down with the flu. My 7 month streak came to an abrupt end and my rings went unclosed for 2 weeks. I later learned that it’s possible to do the “Other” workout and close the rings. Would be nice if Apple enabled some sort of option for sick days. Along those same lines, for those of us that don’t have access to home exercise equipment or a gym, days of bad weather can be a problem. Again, I know now that I can use the “Other” workout on those days but I only learned about that workaround by accident. Maybe Apple does document it more obviously and I missed it? But maybe just a better way to handle sick and bad weather days and the occasional rest day?

Another problem I have is that nearly a year in to closing my rings every day (except for the sick days) and I’m now noticing that even a brisk walk 2 mile walk often does not close my green ring. I guess my cardiovascular system is healthier (obviously a good thing) and so I need to go faster to get my heart rate to the point at which the green ring will close. But as I said, with my knee I’m not able to run and I have to be very careful even with a gentle jog. I’d guess this sort of thing might be an issue for quite a few people with knee or other joint problems. It would be helpful if Apple could allow for a manual setting of some sort. If my brisk walk is now only getting my heart to 110bpm then I should be able to set 110 as the point at which my watch counts green ring minutes. I don’t want to risk damage to my knee so that I can close my green ring.

One last observation. Sometimes the watch just seems a bit crazy. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten 10 minutes of green ring credit for no reason at all. Today while walking I ended the workout half way through the walk. I just wanted to compare the green ring accounting during workout and out of workout. For the walk back I just tapped every so often to calculate the heart rate. When walking at a brisk pace that would normally have me in the 110 to 120bpm range I got 63. I tapped again and 63. Again and 63. Finally it jumped up to 123 which is what I expected. Once it jumped up to 200 which was obviously wrong. In short, sometimes it seems wildly inaccurate.

Overall I consider the watch a good addition to tracking fitness but looking around online it seems many other folks have similar issues. Apple offers a an excellent overview of how the rings work but it seems many people are still confused. Clarification on closing rings and perhaps options for manual settings would be helpful far many.