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How to use the Apple Watch to monitor your health

Health is a hot topic in technology. From tracking workouts to monitoring sleep cycles, we have more ways to study our own health in depth than ever before. The Apple Watch has staked a key part of its reputation on health. If you have an Apple Watch on your wrist, then you will want to make the most its helpful health features.

Apple says its latest Watch is “Part guardian. Part guru.” It’s meant to monitor everything from your heart rhythm to the number of calories you burn. Fall detection and heart-rate tracking are just two of the powerful abilities it offers. You just need to know where to tap on your Watch and your iPhone to harness these features.

The health-monitoring tools we’re going to cover are all available with the latest Apple Watch Series 4, but some of these features (where noted) won’t work with earlier versions of the watch.

Track your workouts

Your Apple Watch is your workout buddy. It can track your progress and maintain a history of your workouts so you can see how you’re doing over time. To accurately log your exercise efforts, you need to first open the Workout app on your watch. The icon looks like a running person.

Scroll through to find the activity that best matches what you’re going to do. Options include indoor running, hiking, swimming, yoga, rowing and walking. You can specify a goal by tapping on the three dots. Otherwise, just tap on the workout and wait for the countdown. Then, start your workout. You can end the workout by swiping right and tapping on the red “X.” There’s also an option to pause or add a new workout.

Check in on how you’re doing by raising your wrist to see your time, calorie count and heart rate information. The Activity app on your iPhone lets you go back and check on your workout history over time so you can hone your exercise routine and see if you’re meeting your goals.

Track your sleep

Getting quality sleep is just as important to your health as staying physically active. The Apple Watch isn’t ready for sleep tracking right out of the box, but there are apps that will handle this duty for you. The AutoSleep app for Apple Watch is a smart place to start.

AutoSleep makes sleep tracking simple. All you have to do is wear your watch to bed. The app will monitor how much time you spend asleep, restless movements during the night, the amount of time you spend awake and your heart rate. In the morning, you can check your nightly analysis, get all the details on your iPhone and look at a graph showing your sleep patterns. A handy history chart shows your sleep quality over time. The app costs $2.99.

Set heart-rate alerts

You probably know what it feels like when your heart races. It may be caused by stress, overexertion or a even a medical condition. Your Apple Watch knows when your heart is working hard, and also when it may be beating slower than normal.

The Apple Watch’s heart-monitoring feature works for Series 1 or later devices. You can check your heart rate at any time by tapping on the Heart Rate app, which appears as a heart icon. This will give you your current heart rate and a glimpse at your recent history.

You can have your Watch notify you if your heart rate goes under or above certain parameters. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, tap on My Watch and then on Heart. Here, you can set high and low heart rates that will trigger notifications. You can also tap on the Irregular Rhythm toggle switch to get notifications that the Watch has identified an issue that could potentially be atrial fibrillation, better known as AFib.

AFib is an irregular heart rhythm that sometimes comes in combination with other symptoms, including fatigue and heart palpitations. If you seem to be experiencing symptoms of AFib, then it’s time to check in with a doctor. The Apple Watch notification can help you keep tabs on this common heart issue.

Turn on fall detection if needed

The Apple Watch Series 4 introduced a new fall detection feature that can connect you to emergency services if it detects a hard fall. While the feature is aimed at seniors, it could be helpful for anyone who is concerned about falling and needing help. The feature is automatically turned off if you’re under 65, but you can manually turn it on.

Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and tap on My Watch. Tap on Emergency SOS and touch the fall-detection toggle switch. If your watch detects a fall, it will show an alert on the watch face. You can dismiss the alert if you’re OK. If you don’t dismiss it, it will tap your wrist, sound an alarm and then call emergency services.


Learn how Emergency SOS works on your iPhone

Take an ECG

The Apple Watch Series 4 can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG) test. This addition of an electrical heart sensor was a major new feature for the watch. An ECG can help determine if you have any irregularities in your heart rhythm. While you may not notice any problems, an ECG could detect an issue and potentially save your life by spurring you to visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

To take an ECG reading, you may first need to set up the ECG app. Be sure both WatchOS and iOS on your iPhone are up to date. Open the Health app. If you don’t see a prompt, go ahead and tap on Health Data, then Heart and then Electrocardiogram (ECG). Read through the information it gives you and complete the setup.

To take an ECG, tap on the red squiggly ECG icon on your Watch. Apple recommends resting your arms on a table or in your lap. Using the hand from your opposite arm, hold your finger on the Digital Crown and then wait 30 seconds. The watch will walk you through this. You can tap on “Add Symptoms” if you were noticing anything unusual. The Health app will store a record of your ECGs, which you can then share with your doctor if needed.


Kim’s take on how the Apple Watch is being used to look for hidden heart problems


Your health is about the big picture just as much as it is about the details. The data your Apple Watch gathers can help you better understand both. Use the information to step up your workouts, improve your sleep and help make sure your heart is ticking along just fine.

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