Tracking Your Health with the Apple Watch

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They’ve revolutionized the way you access information, listen to music, and communicate. Now Apple wants to transform the way you track your health with one powerful accessory.

Debuting April 24, the Apple Watch is the company’s “most personal device yet”: a wearable gadget that does much more than keep time (although it does so within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard). Users can make calls, send and receive texts and mail, access their apps, and do just about everything they do on their phones, directly on their wrists. And it does something your phone can’t—accurately track your health.

How does it work?

The Apple Watch’s wearable design enables it to track users’ health and fitness in ways even the most sophisticated iPhone can’t. The watch uses three different tools: an accelerometer measures total body movement and steps, detecting if a user is running or walking, and calculating calories burned throughout the day; a heart rate sensor detects the user’s heart rate during workouts and everyday activities; and Wi-Fi and GPS provide more accurate calorie counts and measures of distance and speed during outdoor workouts.

The Activity app

The watch’s Activity app measures everyday movements like walking, taking the stairs, and standing up, and shows the user three graphics depicting daily activity: the Move ring tracks calories burned, the Exercise ring tracks how many minutes of brisk activity, and the Stand ring tracks how often the user has stood up from sitting.

Using the information from the Move ring, the watch suggests weekly calorie burn goals based on a user’s recent history. The Exercise ring can be closed once a user has reached 30 minutes of exercise per day, and the goal doesn’t have to be met all at once, allowing for incremental progress throughout the day. The Stand ring encourages users to take occasional breaks from sitting, and the watch reminds them to get up if they’ve been sitting for almost an hour.

The Workout and Fitness apps

The watch’s Workout app gives users real-time stats on time, distance, speed, pace, and calories burned during cardio exercise like running, walking, and cycling. The app even provides encouraging updates when users hit milestones like a halfway point. It also provides a detailed end summary and allows users to compare workouts.

Users receive suggested goals based on the most recent and best workouts, and can accept, increase, or decrease the goals, or choose entirely new ones based on distance, time, or calories to burn. By sharing activity and data with the iPhone’s Health app, the watch’s Fitness app shows progress and trends over time. Users can also allow third-party health and fitness apps to access that information.

Is it worth it?

The Apple Watch’s impressive features come with a hefty price tag. The aluminum alloy Apple Watch Sport starts at $349, the steel case Apple Watch ranges between $549 and $1,049 depending on the band options, and the 18-karat gold case Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000 and can cost up to $17,000.

For those seeking motivation at a lower price tag, many of the Apple Watch’s health features can be found in less expensive wearable devices like the FitBit or Jawbone. Most models of the popular trackers may not be able to sense intricate details like heart rate and calorie burn as accurately as the Apple Watch, but some experts question whether tracking these stats are necessary for better health.

“We’re lucky to have access to such a wide range of health and fitness tracking—there are so many opportunities for data and feedback on our health progress,” says Chicago One Medical Group provider Desmond Watt, PA-C. “But setting up some simple ‘checkbox’ goals for yourself such as, ‘I will exercise for 30 minutes three times a week,’ may lead to the same outcomes for a lot less money. We have the habit of making otherwise simple concepts more complex than they need to be. The basic premise remains the same: eat healthy and stay active–both mentally and physically.”

Some fans argue that the advantage of investing in the Apple Watch is the ability to integrate extensive fitness stats with other components of communication like text, email, and phone calls. And, they say, the product’s sleek design fits seamlessly into their daily lives, inspiring major change without major disruption.

“I’m always trying to find new ways to have my patients take ownership of their health and wellness, be proactive, and prevent disease,” says One Medical LA-based provider Jason Chirichigno, MD. “With the Apple Watch, I’ll have a partner in helping me to bring these ideals to patients on a daily basis. I’ll absolutely be recommending it as a powerful fitness tracker and lifestyle motivator to my patients.”

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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