Can smartwatches influence your attitude towards health and fitness?

Eleanor header

Eleanor Coales

is using the Apple Watch 2

I'm looking forward to the endorphin buzz of seeing my hard work in numbers and data form.

Apple WatchAbout Eleanor

Eleanor is a yoga student with a keen interest in holistic health, moderated by a scientific background. She is on a mission to find the best way to live that provides the best nourishment for our bodies, our minds and the Earth, in a way that suits modern living. Eleanor has her own blog, Green+Aquamarine, which reflects her interests in healthy living, fitness and yoga.

Find out how Eleanor has rated her Apple smartwatch.

Eleanor yoga

Fitness trackers and smart watches are becoming so popular now that it feels as though FitBits and Apple watches are at least as popular, if not more so than classic analogue watches within certain demographics. First up, a confession: this is not my first foray into the world of smart watches. 

I previously trialled a Fitbit for a month but ended up passing it on to a friend because I was worried about becoming obsessive over hitting the plethora of stats and targets that the watch measures. And of course, this is one of the biggest arguments against smart watches and the digitalisation of our lives: too much micromanaging and listening to computerised goals rather than your body. 

However, I enjoyed the little buzz – both literal and figurative – that I got when the watch notified me that I had surpassed my step or stair target for the day. So it is with a sort of cautious interest that I look forward to trying a new watch and seeing what it will teach me.

I consider myself to be fairly healthy; being equally happy to eat vegetables as cake, practising yoga or going to the gym most days, but also resting. As such, I’m not planning on using a new bit of technology on my arm to completely transform my habits, but to highlight patterns good and not-so and perhaps offer insights into any improvements I could make. And I won’t lie; I’m looking forward to the endorphin buzz of seeing my hard work in numbers and data form.

EleanorOne key development in many new smart watches is the inclusion of built-in heart rate monitors. Gone are the days of strapping belts directly across your chest; now your wrist pulse is measured throughout the day. Personally, I find this to be one of the most interesting aspects of smart watches. 

Not just for measuring how hard you push yourself in a spin class, your heart rate is an indicator of stress, fitness and other health variables. If you want to get geeky, there are so many ways that the data collected in a fitness tracker can be displayed, analysed and compared, which is one of the real strengths of wearable tech. 

At the end of the day, so long as a smart watch stays as an interesting supplement to my lifestyle and not an essential or obsessive habit, then I think that for me, it is perfectly fine, and I’m really interested to see what my daily activity looks like – it might be a surprising result.

Eleanor yoga pose

Some six weeks into trialing the Apple Watch Series 2, I have become pretty used to having a smart watch on my wrist giving me chirpy notifications throughout the day and the activity tracking display has definitely been a motivator to get moving. In a distinction to some other smart watches, the Apple Watch separates energy expenditure into hours in which you’ve stood and moved at least once, minutes spent exercising, and the calories burnt by movement throughout the day.

The move tracker really surprised me in how much it varied depending on what I was doing –a day spent on the beach or walking around outside easily met my targets, whereas a day working from home barely registered, even if I fitted in a workout and worked from standing. It was an eye opener in the effect that gentle movement has upon our health.

Aside from activity tracking, my new watch supplied me with a plethora of apps to put technology right on my wrist –even if, as a stereotypical millennial, my phone rarely leaves my hand. If desired, I can pay for my coffee, control music on my phone, check emails and text messages and take photos all from my watch.

app screenshotIt’s almost too much –I have found that when I’ve turned off the connection between my watch and phone to save battery life that the quiet is a relief. A smart watch is brilliant but sometimes too much, especially in today’s technology overload.

Whilst I have mixed feelings about just how smart the Apple Watch Series 2 is, I love how versatile it is for training.

The built in stop watch and third party "Seconds" app make circuit training really easy, and seeing the movement and exercise creep up is definitely motivating. However, I think my favourite feature is the "Breath" function. A few times a day, that watch prompts you to breath and for a duration of one to five minutes, with the breaths marked by a soft vibration and gently pulsing light. It really encouraged me to get into the habit of “mini meditations”, especially during my less-than relaxing train journeys back to my city.

As I spent the start of summer at my parents before starting a yoga teacher training course, my training routine has been tweaked from what it might otherwise looks like. I’m not very good at cardiovascular training other than circuit training or the odd run outside a group class environment, so my gym training has been focused around weight training.

Eleanor yoga poseBetween this and my yoga practice, my heart rate doesn’t raise significantly higher than resting or walking, so unless I select the “Other” option on the exercise app (the watch has pre-programmed settings for running, walking, swimming and cycling) my training won’t be picked up. In the other section, the watch assumes that you are working at a similar pace to a brisk walk, unless your heart rate increases above that level, so it isn’t hugely accurate. I toggled between using the other exercise function and leaving the watch to pick up changes in heart rate by itself during the first two weeks of my yoga training, but in the end elected to keep manually turning the exercise function on, which increased my apparent activity levels massively.

final entry Eleanor

This post wraps up my three months’ worth of trialling the Apple Watch, and it is really interesting to be able to look through my data and see the trends in my stats. I’ve got used to having a little gadget on my wrist sending me buzzing activity updates and social media information. I definitely enjoyed learning a little bit more about myself, and seeing how my body’s behaviour changed throughout the day.

For me, the biggest behavioural change was being aware of how long I had been sitting down and actively trying to stand and move about at least once an hour. Throughout the trial I fell in and out of patterns of using the Breathe app to take a mindful five minutes.
I’m not sure how the watch prompts you to use the Breathe app, but if I hadn’t used it in a couple of days, it would notify me less and lead me to a continual cycle of not using it for days. On days where I had been working at home, I got up to take a walk having seen that my exercise and activity levels were very low.

For the most part, the watch is really straight forward. Lots of data is collected without active input. Opening certain apps had the watch tracking specific workouts, running a breath cycle or providing me with a timer in seconds. The only external app that I downloaded was the Seconds timer app, which made setting up a training circuit for myself in the gym a breeze. I decided not to use the wallet function for contactless payments, although it seems secure.

The exercise tracker on the watch was my most used setting. A recent update to the Apple Watch added even more sports, which helps the watch to differentiate my yoga practice from indoor cycling, which come up with very different heart rate readings! Without setting the exercise tracker on, lower impact activities aren’t picked up or specified into a sport so the tracker was essential. I also really liked the Breathe app, as mentioned in my last post, for encouraging mini meditations sessions.

final entry EleanorThe biggest setback, for me, was the low battery life. Unless I ignored the watch all day and kept it on airplane mode, it required at least daily charging. Unlike a phone, which can be charged as I work or relax, there were limited times in the day that I could charge the watch without losing out on data tracking. I preferred not to waste energy by having it charging all night, plus in some cases I was relying upon it’s silent alarm to wake me up without disturbing others on early mornings. I had a few days during my US visit, when I wasn't able to wear the watch too much because there were limited numbers of power adaptors available.

I also found that putting the watch on airplane mode, or turning off my phone’s Bluetooth, was necessary to stop distracting social media notifications from coming through to my wrist all day.

I did have some concerns about getting too obsessed about my exercise levels, but I  have managed to use the watch in a healthy way in these three months. I strongly believe that if a fitness tracker is making you feel stressed, guilty or anxious then you shouldn’t use it, regardless of how motivating or interesting the device is.
I personally found it really interesting and highly motivating to see the data tracking and the coloured loops close as I reached my goals.

final entry Eleanor

Sometimes it did feel like a faff, especially when the charging issue mentioned earlier arose, but overall my experience was positive. I’ll be continuing to use the watch, at least for the time being.

I went to my first spin class since using the watch recently, and found it eye opening to see how my heart rate rose. My friend is a doctor so it was quite fun to quiz him about my average resting and walking heart rates and see that they were in the healthy range.

Whilst there is a risk of being over-informed and overly connected to too much technology, I found selecting the appropriate settings helped to use a smart watch in a way that worked for me.