As a first time Apple Watch user, I tested out the device’s health and wellness features ahead of its release.
I’ve always felt like Apple Watch users were in a special club that I wasn’t part of. Everyone who has the device seems to love it, forever touting its ability to track their health and fitness progress and keep them connected while reducing screen time spent on their phones. I’ve never had an Apple Watch before and, admittedly, I haven’t felt the need to get one. I’m not big into working out (though I sometimes wish I was), and I have to stay “plugged in” for my job as a culture writer, so I didn’t think an Apple Watch — or the lifestyle it implies — was for me. But ahead of the release of the Apple Watch Series 7 on October 15, I was offered the chance to try out the new device, and as it turns out, I have come away from the experience with a unexpected new perspective.
Aside from the physical features — like the product’s largest display yet, most durable front crystal to date and faster charging capabilities compared to earlier iterations — the Apple Watch Series 7’s new watchOS 8 operating system has some pretty intriguing health and wellness aspects, too. Though at first skeptical of just how much impact one device can really have on my day-to-day life, I actually felt a difference in my physical and mental wellbeing after just one week donning the smartwatch. Here are some takeaways from my first seven days with the Apple Watch Series 7.
My sleep game was no joke
Sleep is a very important part of my day. A perfect night for me, at the ripe age of 22, means tucking in for the night at 9:30 p.m. to enjoy some long, undisturbed shut-eye. But if I’m stressed, I endlessly toss and turn, and quality sleep becomes very difficult to achieve. When I can’t sleep, I find myself reaching for my phone, where I peruse social media or binge watch TV through the late hours of the night. It’s a bad habit that is no doubt a result of my high daily screen time. But since I started using the Apple Watch, I’ve actually been able to achieve longer, uninterrupted sleep.
My Apple Watch forced me to be more intentional about the quality of my sleep. The watch’s Sleep app prompted me to set a goal for my bedtime and include my desired hours of rest. About an hour ahead of the bedtime I set, it would remind me to wind down and prepare for a good night’s rest (meaning no doomscrolling past 9 p.m.!). As I slept, the watch tracked my respiratory rate, heart rate and blood oxygen levels. When I woke up each morning, it congratulated me for meeting my eight-hour sleep target — a small detail but appreciated nonetheless. Can we normalize viewing sleep as an achievement?
Guided meditation reminded me to slow down
The feature I used most on the Apple Watch Series 7 was the mindfulness app — a reimagined version of the Breathe app found on previous versions. Mindfulness offers the option to do Breathe or Reflect sessions. One-minute Breathe sessions guide your breathing by providing visual simulations that coincide with inhales and exhales. In Reflect sessions, you are given the simple task of focusing for one minute while entrancing visuals play on screen. My favourite part of this feature was that I would randomly get reminders throughout the day to slow down and take a minute to do a session. I always obliged — for research purposes, of course — and noticed that these little reminders actually helped to calm the anxiety I often get from working for long periods of time without breaks. It’s like a ready-to-use guided meditation coach on my wrist, something I never knew I needed.
At first, I chalked my newfound ability to chill up to the placebo effect of the jazzy gadget I was sporting. But as the week went on, I noticed the Apple Watch had in fact led to decreased screen time. I’m guilty of getting distracted by my phone — what starts as an innocent notification scan ends with me scrolling through Mindy Kaling’s entire Instagram feed (so many fun cooking videos, how could I not?). With notifications coming to my wrist, I can either dismiss or respond then and there, and the urge to look beyond any one notification dissipated. Plus, responding to messages and emails was sort of fun (what’s happening to me?) on the watch’s new keyboard, which lets you slide a finger to type, and anticipates your next word based on the context of the message.
Working out can be fun? This is news to me!
I don’t often go to the gym, but I do get out for plenty of walks. And while some may not consider that to be a work out, my Apple Watch alerted me that it indeed was — vindication at last! On my daily strolls, the watch detected when I was walking and prompted me to start recording an outdoor walk workout, where it would track my total distance, the amount of calories I burned and my heart rate. Seeing my Apple Watch count walking as me fulfilling my daily fitness goals made me more aware of how this mundane daily exercise can benefit my long-term health. It also kept tabs on more intentional workouts; new with watchOS 8 is the ability to automatically detect a cycling workout. When I went on a scenic bike ride over the weekend, the watch not only tracked my cycling distance, but reported my elevation gain, average speed and average heart rate. And for all you fancy gym-goers, Apple Watch Series 7 can now track two new workout types, Pilates and Tai Chi.
Throughout my week, I also learned about an electrocardiogram, or ECG — a test that assesses the timing and rhythm of your heart beat, to make sure it’s normal — which Apple Watch Series 7 is capable of generating. ECGs are used by doctors to gain insight about heart rhythm and detect irregularities. The test is quick and painless, and all of the information about your heart rhythm, including other wellness data like sleep activity and mindfulness minutes, is saved in the Health app on your iPhone to have on hand should you or your doctor ever need to review.
If you’re anything like me, you can be, at times, oblivious of your health. Whether it’s because of an underlying fear that something may actually be wrong, or just plain willful ignorance, it doesn’t matter — it’s always important to know what’s going on with your body. And my Apple Watch forced me to do just that. Overall, the watch made information about my health more accessible to me, and inspired me to be more intentionally aware of my mental and physical wellbeing. It served as a regular reminder to check in with my body — and honestly, I get the hype.