Being Fit and Healthy with Apple Watch

The other day I realised I’ve reached a point in my life where I have sets of easy to follow rules that help me cope.

For example, having five things in my pockets when I go out gives me a sense of satisfaction that I’m ready to deal with anything. Just to recap that’s iPhone, AirPods, Keys, ThinOptics Glasses, wallet, 1,2,3,4-5 ok let’s go.

OK I’m ready to go out now

OK I’m ready to go out now

(Though I must say having just bought some Bose Frames I have been thrown a little - they are so cool I always want to have them with me, so it takes the number to 6 - unless I don’t need AirPods now because I have the frames and I’ll be outside, so back to 5, and having a smart lock on our front door, and a car I can open with an app, also means I don’t always need keys, so now I’m at 4 - which is hopeless - how am I supposed to process all that before leaving?)

Look how happy I am in my Bose Frames :)

Look how happy I am in my Bose Frames :)

I have also begun looking for ways to make life simpler. For example I started cutting my own hair with a cheap trimmer I bought on Amazon - I thought this was great, all that time saved, and none of the “holiday chat” in the barbers, and I looked smart (I believed) - but my wife has put a stop to it for some reason - no doubt based on her sense of shame when standing next to me.

And I have simplified my diet and have been “plant based” for almost three years. This one has stuck and been nothing other than a success for me, having a positive affect on my health and ability to recover from intense exercise. Not to mention the feel good factor about the environment and animal welfare. And I really don’t miss bacon, which is a huge surprise.

But perhaps the biggest change to my day to day life has been adding exercise to my weekly routine, and actually enjoying it (most of the time).

This only started after a lifetime of sitting in front of a computer and not exercising at all, which partly led to two DVT’s and a life threatening double pulmonary embolism so it seemed like a good time to perhaps get my heart and body a bit tuned up. So in 2012 (I was 47) I bought a bike and then after a while decided to use it. Though to be fair, I had started to walk a bit more prior to this in an effort to get fit - really simply walking like the 500m to the shops instead of taking the car - honestly it is a great way to start.

Its Not Just About Weight

Although I was very overweight at that time (and am still overweight now just quite a bit less so) I don’t believe weight is as related to fitness as most people think. Just look at Mirna Valerio or search for “Overweight Athletes” to see some evidence to this effect. And conversely I know some very slim people who get out of breath climbing the stairs.

What I do know is I am in the best health I have ever been (even better than when I won a county swimming race for 100m breaststroke in the 11 and under age category, which to be honest probably reigned as my fitness peak for years until I started with that bike) and that I have completed two full IronMan triathlons in the last three years, as well as a bunch of other stuff like swimming 14km down the Thames, and cycling across the Pyranees coast to coast in a week.

What is being “Fit and Healthy”?

We know it’s not just about losing weight so what is it?

Here’s a definition of “Health” taken from a GCSE Text book that I have borrowed from my daughter:

Health: A state of complete mental, physical, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”

Ok so that sounds like something I’d like to have. What about fitness?

Fitness: The ability to meet the demands of the environment”

Bit general, and depends on your environment (if you are in the jungle with Bear Grylls it may be different to when you are on the bus to work), but ok.

And to achieve this we exercise:

Exercise: A form of physical activity done to maintain or improve health and / or physical fitness, it is not competitive sport”

Ok cool - I can go with that - if we exercise more we can maintain or improve our mental, physical and social well being and meet the demands of our environment. That’s all good. And we don’t have to be competitive and try to win anything which is even better. What we are saying is that exercise improves us in the following ways:

Level Water provides specialist one-to-one swimming lessons for children with physical and sensory disabilities.

Level Water provides specialist one-to-one swimming lessons for children with physical and sensory disabilities.

  • Mental Health - You will get a “Feel good factor” from exercising (actually from the increased serotonin levels that result from it) because once you get passed the struggle of getting ready to go out and actually do it, you can indeed have fun by just taking part in whatever works for you. Personally I love long endurance activity on my own, at my own pace, in my own world, just thinking of the here and now, and not worrying about the past or contemplating the future. I’ve heard that been described as a state of happiness which I totally get. And when you finish you feel some self satisfaction in what you have achieved.

    I am doing a charity 10km swim in September called the Dart 10K for a charity called Level Water - they provide swimming lessons for children with disabilities and they say:

    "Through developing independence in the water, and being able to join mainstream classes, each child develops confidence, self-esteem and resilience.”

    which is marvellous. And we can all get a bit of that too with our own exercise (If you’d like to sponsor me for this event and help Level Water, click here)

  • Physical Fitness - the more obvious benefit of exercising which can build strength, muscular endurance, cardio capability and flexibility. And that can lead to reduced health risks such as heart diseases and strokes, which I’m guessing pretty much everyone wants.

  • Social Well Being - A less obvious benefit of exercise, but it will invariably lead to new friendships and social groups, in the real world and the virtual one. I am lucky to have a great cycling club near me where small groups go out at different times on different days with different goals. If you want an easy mid-week ride or a hard 50 miler on Sunday you can take your pick. But whichever you choose it always includes a coffee and cake stop and great conversation with people you probably would not have met otherwise. Similarly on Strava I have virtual friends that I have never met but we share “kudos” and supportive comments and others which have become real world friends later.

How can Apple Watch Help?

Apple Watch is an incredible tool for getting on the path to health and fitness. Much more than any other device I can think of.

  • It’s a great everyday smartwatch and a lot of people may buy it just for that.

  • But It is also a complete sport watch capable of dealing with serious training and logging of events (I use it to train for IronMan triathlons for example)

  • However if you’re just looking to get started the Apple Watch Activity rings and “closing your rings” is miles better than a step tracker because it is more focussed on real tangible and beneficial targets.

  • It has social features built in with Workout sharing and Competitions or it can link to other platforms like Strava.

  • It has a rich set of third party apps that support any and every type of activity you can think of (pretty much)

  • It has the Health app which stores a wealth of information regarding your activity, mindfulness, nutrition and sleep. Apps can read and write this data so you can use whatever app you want to record it, and then analyse it in interesting ways and It can connect to bluetooth sensors and devices for additional data.

    As you'd expect, there are always areas I’d still like to see improvement on from Series 4 though - namely battery life for workouts (it’s not bad at 5/6 hours, and if you keep your iPhone in your back-pocket it can double that, but I’d still like more), built-in sleep tracking which still requires third party apps or devices, and wider support for different types of bluetooth devices.

So how do you do this?

Here’s the path that I took - I am hoping this provides some inspiration for anyone wanting to use Apple Watch to get fit and healthy, but of course there are a multitude of approaches, and I’ve added a couple of others from family too. Just don’t forget this:

Whatever your health and fitness goals are, you can do it.

My potted fitness history

  • I started by walking instead of driving to places - this was before Apple Watch but I used apps on iPhone to track what I had done, and how many calories I had burnt. Short walks to the shops was an easy one, but then I started walking instead of taking the tube in London, or just going for a walk with Steph or on my own around our estate or driving to the river or somewhere interesting and walking there. On my own I love to have headphones on and listen to music or a podcast or an audiobook. I still love to do this and track it on Apple Watch now. And it’s even nicer with the Series 4 Cellular watch (no iPhone) and AirPods (or my current favourite of Bose Frames when it’s sunny) because it’s just simpler and I like that.

  • I bought a bike on a “Cycle to work” scheme here in the UK. It was a Trek DS 8.5 which I still have. “Cycle to work” is a nice incentive because you save a significant amount on the cost in tax cuts. Here’s my first ride on that bike in October 2012 logged on Strava (using the Strava app on my iPhone because Apple Watch didn’t exist yet with a bluetooth chest heart rate strap on):

  • I started cycling more and more, traded up to a Road Bike (A Boardman Team Carbon) and entered my first big event which was the London to Brighton night ride in July 2013 - this was 60 miles starting at just gone midnight and getting into Brighton as the sun was rising over the hills - glorious!

  • I joined my local San Fairy Ann cycling club - it’s a huge club with 400+ members which means you can pretty much always join a ride at the pace and distance you fancy.

  • While on holiday in Wales in 2013 I heard about the Long Course Weekend (LCW) which is a IronMan distance triathlon but done over three days - on Friday night you do the 2.4mile swim, then on Saturday you Cycle 112miles and then on Sunday you run a full Marathon. Strangely and with false bravado, I decided to enter for 2014 which meant I needed to start running and swimming to train for it.

  • It took me three years to complete the Long Course Weekend - the first year I could only manage the half Marathon because of injury, the second year I didn’t get to the swim in time because I got stuck in traffic! But in 2016 I completed it. That was good in terms of 3 years of training though :) Although I had the original Apple Watch and Series 1 through this period I wasn’t really using it for training at that point.

  • Based on completing the LCW, I took the decision to enter IronMan Maastricht for 2017. I had series 2 Apple Watch for this, but relied mainly on a Garmin Watch for training and to log the event. I completed it in August 2017 (swim, bike, run)

  • Now Series 3 was out and I decided it was perfect for training for IronMan Wales in 2018 which is what I did.

  • Since IronMan Wales I have been training using Series 4 Apple Watch for Outlaw Nottingham in July 2019 - an IronMan distance event but a different brand. Unfortunately torrential rain caused this to be cancelled on the day, after the swim, so that was that.

  • I’m now looking forward to three swim heavy challenges in the coming weeks: A SwimRun in Holy Island, a 10K Dart River Swim, and the Swim Serpentine.

My wife’s fitness history

Steph has a much simpler path, and is probably much more typical than me - it has certainly worked for her -though I can’t deny it is a bit frustrating because I seem to have to put a lot more effort in with my approach!

  • She had a fitbit type band that counted steps but it broke

  • I persuaded her that an Apple Watch would be much better at tracking fitness and getting healthy

  • She now obsessively closes her rings every day - she has never missed one since getting her series 3 about 18 months ago!

  • Pretty much every morning she completes a 7 minute HIIT workout using Carrot Fit or at weekends she does Yoga using Yoga Studio on Apple TV, and logs a Yoga activity on her Apple Watch

  • We go on walks together and log it all on Apple Watch so we can close those rings!

My mum’s use of Apple Watch

My mum has had a history of heart issues and she now uses a series 4 Apple Watch to monitor her heart for problems and for fall detection (which would alert me and the emergency services automatically). She also uses the Rings on Apple Watch and aims to close her stand and move goals every day.

Where does the motivation come from?

What I have learnt from my history is that my motivation comes from setting a goal and then using technology to track my progress towards it. It’s worked for me.

But I also see and hear incredible stories at the start line of events - people achieve unbelievable things.

  • My friend Ben Rodgers ran a marathon every day for a year!

  • I met a woman at IronMan Wales who could only consume food through a hole in her chest because of an intestine disease, and that is what she was going to do during the event - basically stop on the bike and run and take a drip!

  • At the start line of the London Marathon I first heard of the 100 marathon club - you can join once you have run 100 marathons (only 94 to go for me then!).

Thousands of ordinary people have stories like this, but there are also many more stories of people who just started simply and never had such ambitions but achieved success in meeting their more modest goals anyway.

If you want to improve your health and fitness and have an Apple Watch then I would recommend the following:

  1. Set a goal. That could be to close your rings every day, walk more every day, run your first 5K, complete a triathlon, do an IronMan, try an open water swim, or anything that inspires you. I currently am looking at doing a longer SwimRun maybe something like this

  2. Workout a plan to achieve your goal - do you need a training plan, is there an app that can do that for you, can you do it yourself and log it all on Apple Watch?

  3. Get social - either using workout sharing, or some other platform like Strava, or even better start training with someone you know or join a local club. Nothing motivates more than knowing other people are with you. Consider an online or local coach if you have a really big challenge.

  4. Realise you will not stick to the plan. There’s this thing called life which get’s in the way. Illness, Injury, bad days, lazy days, drunken weekends. Stuff happens. Don’t give up, just get back on track in the next day or two and you’ll be golden.

  5. Give yourself a pat on the back. I love to relive something I have completed by looking at the data from it - it’s the perfect mix of real world achievement and deep geek on tech data for me. So I will review the ride, run or swim on platforms such as Training Peaks, Strava or - because I love those charts and figures :) You will find other ways to do this, just try not to make it a cake after every run.

Remember though that whatever you decide to do, you can do it and you might as well start today :)

Have fun!

For more info on how to use Apple Watch to get fit and healthy have a browse through this site, or contact me directly for specific questions. I am always delighted to help.