3 ways the Apple Watch can help you lead a healthier life

apple watch
© Megan Treacy

Here at TreeHugger, we're far from anti-technology. We embrace technologies that make our lives and the world better and we are always looking for the best ways to use and interact with the technology around us so that our days are improved, not squandered away staring at screens.

With this is in mind, I wanted to take a look at the Apple Watch, the latest big gadget from the company that has brought us a stream of game-changing products. We already know that there are many iPhone and iPad apps that help us to eat better, stay active and connect with nature, but how does the Apple Watch measure up? Can a gadget that is meant to streamline our interactions with our phone and act as a tiny personal assistant and fitness coach provide meaningful improvements to our lives?

I write this as someone who has been wearing the Apple Watch for three days now. I have the base level Sport in the smaller 38mm size with a sport band. After some fumbling around to figure out its capabilities and get used to the different ways to access all of the apps and data, I've got some initial ideas on how this small gadget can help people stay healthy in both body and mind.

1. It keeps you from reaching for your phone.

This is probably the most significant thing I've noticed. The Apple Watch pings me when anyone messages or calls me and it has all of the most important daily information I need, like weather and calendar events, right at a glance on my wrist. This has actually allowed me to just forget about my phone and let the watch keep tabs on everything. The watch is paired with the phone via Bluetooth, so you'll still need the phone in your vicinity, but you don't need to be holding it.

Typically, I would check my phone several times a day for messages or to look up the weather or other quick info, but after checking those things, I'd tend to get sidetracked by all of the other things I could be reading or looking up on my phone. What now takes me a couple of seconds, would previously take me a few minutes while I checked up on everything else tempting me.

I now do way less impulse things on my phone. In fact, my phone has only needed to be charged once over the past few days.

It has made it so that I only pick up the phone when I have the time or need to use it. I check my email way less where before I'd just go ahead and check it anytime I used my phone for something else.

apple watch activityApple.com/Screen capture

2. It reminds you to keep moving

The activity monitoring and fitness tracking apps are one of the cornerstones of this device. It's a large part of why you'd want to wear anything on your wrist in the first place, and so far, it has kept me motivated.

I'm a first time user of a dedicated fitness tracker. I've used apps on my phone for tracking my runs or walks, but I've never used a FitBit or similar device to constantly monitor my movements. I've read that some people respond to the motivation, while others ultimately start ignoring the device. I seem to be in the first camp.

The Activity app tracks your movements in three ways, which it represents as three rings that you complete throughout the day (pictured above). First is your movement throughout the day, which is really your steps. When you first set up the app, it will ask you for your typical activity level (Light, Moderate, etc.) and then set daily goals for you based on that. It sets an active calories goal (instead of a step goal) and you can check in to see the outer ring make its way around or dip deeper and see exactly how many active calories you've burned, steps you've taken and their equivalent distance.

The second ring is exercise. The app sets a goal for 30 minutes a day -- the doctor prescribed amount -- which it tracks through both movement and heart rate. If you're doing anything at a brisk walk pace or above, the app counts it as exercise. This means that you can meet your daily goal in one session or by doing active things throughout the day that get your heart rate up like cleaning or gardening. On the first day, I easily surpassed the goal by playing a long game of Simon Says with my kids (there was a lot of jumping and running involved).

The third ring tracks your sitting versus standing. It sets a goal of standing for at least a couple of minutes each hour over 12 hours. If you've been sitting for the first 50 minutes of any hour, it will prompt you to stand up and move.

If you're easily meeting your movement goal every day for a week, the app gives you the option of making it higher for the next week. You can also change the settings to get more or less alerts about your progress.

There is a dedicated fitness app where you can log exercises like running, walking, biking, aerobics and others. Anytime you log a workout, it counts toward your activity goals.

I'm a person that loves data, so the activity monitoring and alerts to keep moving have been solid motivation for me to stay on my feet or even do a few jumping jacks while I'm at it.

green kitchen app apple watchiTunes/Screen capture

3. Apps that help you be more efficient

Many of your favorite apps now have a watch counterpart. Not all of these are easy to use on the watch, but there are a few types of apps that I think are particularly well-suited for the watch and keeping us healthy. These apps make our daily tasks more efficient so we can spend less time fiddling with our phones, keep our stress to a minimum and let the watch handle some things for us.

Cooking apps are ones that I think get a major boost from the watch. Apps like Epicurious and Green Kitchen, let you pull up your favorite healthy recipes and then prompt you with each step as you cook. My favorite part is the built-in timers that alert you when each step should be done, like sautéing onions, all without having to wipe your hands and pick up your phone.

Apps for public transit help you to quickly glance and find the best route to get to your destination. You can plug in your destination in the app on your phone and then have it show you step by step directions on your watch so that you don't have to keep pulling out your phone as you go. Apps like Transit and CityMapper are Apple Watch compatible.

Organization apps also extend well to the watch. If you use apps like Evernote for recording notes or tasks or Mint for budgeting, you can quickly check in on to-do lists and your money without having to spend any time on your phone.

The Apple Watch may not be the next iPhone or iPad, and it definitely has room for improvement when it comes to apps, but it does indeed streamline your interactions with your phone, keeping you from wasting time on a screen when you can be getting stuff done or just letting you forget about it until you actually want to use it. Plus, as a fitness monitoring device, it definitely helps keep you on track while letting you personalize the amount of motivation and data you want to receive.

3 ways the Apple Watch can help you lead a healthier life
The new gadget is out. Here are some ways it can keep you healthy.

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