Get Fit with Apple Watch: Using the Apple Watch for Health and Fitness (2015)

Part II. The Apple Watch in Health & Fitness

Chapter 7. Using the Apple Watch with the iPhone Health App

Allen G. Taylor

(1)

London, England

Strictly speaking, the Health app is an iPhone app, not an Apple Watch app. It was around long before the Apple Watch was introduced. However, the arrival of the watch has increased the value of the Health app tremendously. The Apple Watch senses your movements and vital signs in real time while you are exercising and transmits that information directly to the Health app via the Bluetooth connection between your Apple Watch and your iPhone. The Health app records this data and presents it to you in graphical form as well as in the form of raw data. With the charts on the Health app Dashboard, you can tell at a glance how far you have run or walked today, what the range of your heart rate has been today as well as for the current month, and perhaps the number of steps you have taken.

Configuring the iPhone Health App

iOS8 and newer versions of the Apple operating system on iPhone will have an Apple Watch icon on the Home screen, as shown in Figure 7-1.

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Figure 7-1.

iPhone screen showing Apple Watch icon

When you tap the icon, the My Watch screen shown in Figure 7-2 appears.

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Figure 7-2.

iPhone My Watch screen

The My Watch screen first shows controls such as App Layout, Airplane Mode, and Apple Watch, followed by a list of built-in apps. Scroll down to find the Health app. Select it and enter the information that it asks for, which includes birth date, sex, height, and weight. These facts will be used by formulas that calculate key information, such as your body mass index and how hard you are pushing yourself during an exercise. This information may also be shared with third-party fitness apps to augment the information that they collect on your workout sessions. One of the cool things about the Health app is that it acts as a central hub for all your health and fitness apps, both native and third party. They can all share data with the Health app, and vice versa.

Setting Your Watch as a Data Source

Once your Apple Watch has been paired with your iPhone and once the built-in apps, such as the Activity app and the Workout app, have been downloaded to it, your Apple Watch will automatically be considered as a data source for those apps. You will also want your watch to be a data source for third-party health and fitness apps that you may have. I will discuss several of these apps in Chapter 9, along with how to set your watch as a data source for them.

Using the Health App Main Menu

When you tap the Health app icon to call it up, you will be placed into one of four modes, identified by icons at the bottom of your iPhone screen. They are Dashboard, Health Data, Sources, and Medical ID.

The Dashboard, shown in Figure 7-3, displays graphs of metrics showing a history of your fitness and health stats. Some of these are provided by default to get you started; others you can add yourself. You can also delete default graphs that you don’t want.

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Figure 7-3.

Dashboard

The Health Data screen, shown in Figure 7-4, is divided into seven major categories. Many of these hold data that you enter manually, but two of them, Fitness and Vitals, also can accept data directly from the Apple Watch, as well as from third-party applications.

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Figure 7-4.

Health data

The Sources screen shows the apps and devices from which the Health app can accept data. As Figure 7-5 shows, my copy of the Health app can accept data from the MyHeart ResearchKit app, Runkeeper, Runtastic Pro, and Strava, as well as from my Apple Watch and from my iPhone.

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Figure 7-5.

Sources

The Medical ID screen (Figure 7-6) shows your picture, your name, and your age, as well as any medical conditions that might be helpful if you ever need medical help but are not able to communicate.

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Figure 7-6.

Medical ID

Tracking the Data That Interests You

The data-gathering capabilities of the Apple Watch can be both a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing in that you are able to record and analyze information that it was not practical to collect in the past. They are potentially a curse in that so much data is collected that separating the signal from the noise can be daunting.

What you want to do is track the data that interests you and be able to easily ignore the rest. For tracking the data of interest, the Health app’s Dashboard graphs give you an overview of the data items of interest and show such things as variability from day to day as well as trends in the data.

Data is captured and maintained in these seven categories:

·               Body Measurements

·               Fitness

·               Me

·               Nutrition

·               Results

·               Sleep

·               Vitals

All of these areas are important to a person’s overall health, but the Apple Watch is particularly involved with the Fitness and Vitals categories.

Fitness Data

The main message that the Apple Watch conveys regarding fitness is that action enhances fitness. The more active you are, the more fit you are likely to become and likely to remain. There are a variety of things you can do to remain active. Having multiple activities that keep you moving will also keep things interesting. With its accelerometer and with the iPhone’s GPS, the Apple Watch can get a good sense of how active you are. Primarily, it measures activity in terms of calories burned.

Active Calories

Calories (actually kilocalories but called calories for short) are a measure of heat. Just being alive and keeping your body up to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit burns calories. Even sitting still burns calories. Sitting motionless while contemplating your next move in a tough chess game burns more calories than you would imagine. It is said that the brain actually uses up to 20 percent of the total calories consumed by a person. What those chess players claim is actually true: thinking is hard work.

However, the calories you burn keeping alive and thinking are not active calories. Active calories are the calories that you burn when you go above and beyond and get your body moving. The more vigorously you move, the more active calories you will burn.

Cycling Distance

The Workout app discussed in Chapter 6 enables you to record both outdoor and indoor cycling workouts. When you are cycling outdoors, the GPS function on your iPhone will enable the app to calculate the distance you have traveled. When you are cycling indoors on a stationary bike, the Workout app will estimate how far you have gone, based on accelerometer readings and heart rate. In both cases, the Workout app will send its calculated distance to the Health app, and it will show up on the Health app’s Dashboard as well as appearing as numeric data when you tap the Show All Data option of the Fitness ➤ Cycling Distance category.

Flights Climbed

The Workout app does not record actual flights of stairs climbed but does record workouts on a stair-stepper machine in the gym, which simulates climbing flights of stairs. If you want to record actual flights of stairs that you have climbed, you can enter the number of flights manually and keep track that way. This is the same thing you would do, for example, to manually enter your weight after you weigh yourself on your bathroom scale every day.

If you want to record time spent on a stair stepper, you will have to translate the time you spend on the machine into flights of stairs climbed and then enter that number manually into the Health app’s Health Data section, namely, the Fitness ➤ Flights Climbed category.

NikeFuel

NikeFuel is a metric for measuring whole-body movement. It is implemented with an app running on either an iPhone or Android phone, which uses accelerometer readings to sense and record your body’s movement. Movement that NikeFuel detects is routed to the iPhone Health app, where it can be displayed on the Dashboard along with the other fitness metrics that you choose to display.

Resting Calories

The Health app differentiates between active calories and resting calories. Resting calories are burned by keeping your heart pumping and other vital processes operating, as well as contemplating your next chess move. You also burn a few resting calories while deciding whether you want your groceries to be bagged in paper or plastic. The Health app records resting calories, but neither the Activity app nor the Workout app includes resting calories in their totals. If you want to record resting calories, you will have to do so manually, possibly using figures you obtain from a third-party fitness app that records total calories rather than just active calories.

Steps

The Apple Watch uses its accelerometer to estimate the number of steps you take in the course of a day. Those readings are automatically transferred to the Health app on your iPhone and show up on the Dashboard’s Steps graph. The graph gives you a rough idea of how active you are by showing how many steps you have taken so far today, compared to how many you took each day of the current week, month, or year. Figure 7-7 shows the Steps graph and the controls you can use to configure the display.

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Figure 7-7.

Steps graph

The graph shows you how many of your steps your source app or device has recorded so far today, as well as a history of how many steps you have taken in past days.

Walking + Running Distance

For most people, walking and running are the two activities that will make up the bulk of a person’s body movement activity, although cycling may rate high for some. Walking and running recorded either by the Workout app or by one of the third-party fitness apps that runs on the watch will be transferred to the Health app and appear on the Walking + Running Distance graph on the Dashboard. A quick glance at the graph (Figure 7-8) will tell you whether you need to go for a run before you wrap things up for the day.

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Figure 7-8.

Walking + Running Distance graph

Workouts

The Workouts graph (Figure 7-9) shows the time spent working out per day in hours and minutes. Data comes from the Apple Watch’s Workout app and also from third-party fitness apps.

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Figure 7-9.

Workouts graph

Warning

If you activate both your Watch’s Workout app and a third-party fitness app, the Workouts graph will take data from both, making it look like you are working out twice as long as you really are. Your workout is counted twice.

This just means that if you are concerned about accurately tracking your workout time, you should choose to use either the Workout app or one third-party app of your choice. Having, for example, Runtastic and Strava both running while exercising would also double count your workout time.

Vitals Data

Under the Vitals category, the basic signs of your overall level of health are recorded. These are the things that health professionals check whenever you go to the doctor for any reason: blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate. If any one of these indicators deviates from what is considered normal, that gives the doctor a clue as to where your trouble might lie. Of course, it’s good to know this information even before you go to the doctor. Early detection of a problem could cause you to seek treatment before a condition becomes acute.

Blood Pressure

Although the Apple Watch does contain a pulse oximeter, which theoretically can be used to measure blood pressure, blood pressure readings are not a feature of the watch’s first release. Speculation abounds on why this may be so. However, since the hardware is present, it is possible that a future software update may release the capability to measure blood pressure. Then again, maybe not. We will just have to wait and see.

Body Temperature

When you visit the doctor’s office, a medical assistant probably sticks a temperature probe in your mouth to take your temperature. The Apple Watch does not have a temperature probe, and even if it did, you probably would not want to stick it into your mouth anyway. Any time you do have your temperature measured, you can manually add that measurement as a data point to the Health app if you want.

Heart Rate

The Apple Watch measures your heart rate, and those measurements show up in the Health app (Figure 7-10). This happens automatically, without any manual intervention. Readings are taken throughout the day, and a bar on the Heart Rate graph extends from the lowest heart rate measured during the day to the highest. If the automatic measurements do not happen as often as you like, you can always start the Workout app, which will take readings on a frequent basis.

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Figure 7-10.

Heart rate graph

If you want, you can also see the raw data that is used as the basis for the graph (Figure 7-11).

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Figure 7-11.

Showing all data

Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate is measured in breaths per minute. Like blood pressure, this is a vital sign that could be measured by the sensors within the Apple Watch but is not offered in the first release of the Apple Watch. Picking up rhythmic chest expansions from the wrist is a challenging measurement to make. We will have to wait to see whether this is ever offered. However, the capacity is there to record this data in the Health app, so if you ever have your respiratory rate measured at a clinic or sports medicine facility, you can enter that data manually, and it will appear on the Health app Dashboard.

Summary

If you are a stats geek like I am, after you have run the Health app for a while, you will soon find yourself referring to it often. The information it records and displays on your fitness-related activities and heart rate gives you a near real-time view of the state of your fitness and your overall health. It can also give you advance warning of incipient problems before you would otherwise become aware of them. The usefulness of the Health app is multiplied by its connection to the Apple Watch, over what it is when used only with the iPhone.