How Does Apple Watch Measure Exercise?

Through brisk action

The exercise ring only increases when you're performing an activity considered more intense than what you'd usually do. That means a short and slow walk won't count but a brisk one will. For wheelchair users, that correlates to a slow or brisk push. 

If you find you can't meet the default goals set by Apple, you can change the Apple Watch exercise, stand, movement goals to goals you can meet.

How Does Apple Watch Track Exercise Ring?

The sensors on the Apple Watch periodically check your heart rate and movement. Once the sensors notice an increase, the watch begins keeping track of how long you've been doing that movement (or series of movements). Once the Apple Watch determines you're performing a task briskly or with more intensity than usual, each minute you spend doing it is added to the exercise ring. 

Keep your heart rate slightly elevated to ensure the Apple Watch tracks your movements as exercise rather than solely as part of your move goal. This can be swinging your arms or walking quickly. 

Do Workouts Count as Exercise on Apple Watch?

Simply put, yes. While the exercise ring can fill up even when you haven't completed workouts, it also tracks all your workouts and allocates them to your exercise ring. 

The only exception here is sometimes if you go for a walk, you may not walk sufficiently for the Apple Watch to track it as part of your exercise for the day. This is often either because the walk has been too brief or because you've been walking too slowly for it to register. A certain amount of intensity is required to raise your heart rate in order to count as a form of exercise rather than simply daily activity. 

It's possible to 'cheat' the system by selecting Other Workout in the workouts app but that's not really the point of using an Apple Watch to track your daily activity. 

How Accurate Is Apple Watch Activity?

The Apple Watch is reasonably accurate but it's not perfect. Like most other fitness trackers, its aim is more to do with altering your behavior so you still work out more and exercise more frequently, even if it doesn't track your workouts as effectively as you might like.

As mentioned, if you walk too slowly, the Apple Watch won't track it as exercise, even if you walk for hours, but it will track your calorie expenditure and your steps. Again, these might not be 100% accurate, but it's a decent enough guide if you're trying to change your habits for the better. 

Why Didn't My Apple Watch Track My Exercise?

There are a few different reasons why your Apple Watch might not be tracking your exercise. Here's a quick look at some of them.

  • You haven't completed the Health app correctly. Check that your personal details are accurate within the Health app to ensure everything is monitored correctly according to your height, weight, and gender.
  • Your Apple Watch isn't calibrated. Try going for an outdoor walk for about 20 minutes to calibrate your Apple Watch to your walking style.
  • Swing your arms. Swing your arms more when you walk so your Apple Watch notices the motion. Avoid keeping your hands in your pockets.
  • Exercise harder. Walk more briskly or work out a little harder to elevate your heart rate so the Apple Watch notices and acknowledges it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does Apple Watch overestimate calories? Sometimes. A Standford study found that the Apple Watch was less accurate than many other fitness trackers. For best results, make sure the device is properly calibrated and that you use good form when exercising.
  • How do I add a workout to Apple Watch? You must use the Health app for iPhone to add workouts on the Apple Watch. Open the Health app on your phone and tap Browse, then search for a workout.
  • Does Apple Watch track walking if my arms aren't moving?. Yes, but not accurately. The Apple watch's built-in sensors track the movements of your arms, so for accurate results, move your arms at a natural pace for your speed.
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