No Wrist, No Reward: Is It Time to Buy an Apple Watch?
By Lauren Louie
“Do I own an Apple Watch, or does it own me?” I thought the answer was obvious. From an outsider’s perspective, my friends looked too preoccupied with logging their progress in real time to acknowledge the exercise that was actually happening. I was the only one of my friends without an Apple Watch and felt a bizarre resistance to hold down the front, be the odd one out, and evade the takeover of Silicon Valley’s step tracking, time ticking, wrist monitor. They reminded me of the Instagram plague we collectively witnessed and/or experienced at its height in the 2010’s: a hunger for documentation that predominated the experience. I didn’t want the bug, didn’t need my cadance, and didn’t want to start tracking calories. Besides, I doubted that the Apple Watch would really improve my life beyond the efforts I already put towards my health. But after spending a year or so observing, debating, and considering, I caved.
I bought the Apple Watch SE without cellular. The SE is a year older than the Apple Watch Series 7 that was just released in October, 2021. I knew I didn’t want anything fancy and the SE is the most economical option whilst staying up to date. The Apple Watch Series 3 is the least expensive model available, but it’s also the smallest and the most bare in terms of features. The features missing from the SE are none that I care to use. For example, it doesn’t have the blood oxygen sensor or the ECG app, but it still measures your heart rate, which is already more than I need to know.
The Activity App
The Activity app is what has made this a worthwhile purchase. It allows users to set customized daily goals in three different rings, or categories: Stand, Exercise, and Move. The Exercise ring is a measure of how many minutes you work out whereas the Move ring measures how many active calories you burn. That means the watch is estimating the calories burned for movement like yard work or taking the stairs. The goals reset every day and users are rewarded for their continuation. The highest benefit is that the watch acts as a daily motivator. My goals aren’t astronomical, but rather achievable and realistic for my lifestyle. It took a couple of weeks to find out what that looked like and since then, I’ve lowered my Move goal, increased my Exercise goal, and have been exercising more and in different ways more regularly. As a remote worker with an uncomfortable desk chair and shrimp-like posture, I’m also finding great use in the watch’s Stand feature. If I haven’t already, the watch will notify me to stand for at least a minute of every hour for 12 hours of the day. I rolled my eyes at my friends for their obedience and reliance as they stood in unison from the couch at exactly ten minutes to the hour, but now that I’m benefitting, I have no qualms. It seems I’ve been converted.
In addition to the conventional types of exercise, the watch has a wide variety of workout options, including Mind and Body, Flexibility, and Dance. Short descriptions of what qualifies can be found on their website. The range of options makes it so anyone, regardless of experience, has use for this watch. The variety of workouts creates a lower barrier to entry, which means it’s up to the user to define health and their path towards healthier. There is also a Mindfulness feature, which is essentially guided breathing meditation for up to five minutes. The implementation of mental health and its breadth of exercise options is what elevates the Apple Watch from a pedometer to an accessory to health.
Exercise is measured by minutes, but I’m unsure how Move is measured. The active calories estimate can vary greatly and seems to be biased towards cardio exercises. The higher the heart rate, the higher the estimate. In my experience, strength workouts don’t receive the same payoff towards my Move goal despite being more challenging and strenuous. This is where I remind myself to either adjust my goals accordingly or brush off the watch’s measurement of exercise for my own.
I was wary about another device intruding on my attention, only this one would be attached to my arm, sucking the life from me like a mosquito wristlet. It’s on me, it’s on me! I’ve gotten around it by limiting the apps and disabling all message notifications and Siri announcements. The watch is a slight deviance in my effort to be less attached to tech, but it’s done minimal damage, if at all. It helps to make a preemptive, conscious effort to disway any strong attachment or obsession with hitting my goals. Anyone else with the same concern likely needn’t be.
Although the Krakauer part of my brain wanted to resist technological aid, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help with the very thing I thought I should be able to do on my own: motivation. Framing exercise as a daily goal instead of a weekly one has raised the bar and inadvertently encouraged me to vary my exercise routine. You get what you give. This watch didn’t turn me into the athlete my asthmatic 8-year-old self wished I was, nor did it have the zero effect I feared it might. I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to compare models on the website before deciding which watch will best serve their needs.