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Let's kick this off with the necessary disclaimer: This article does not give medical advice. If you need advice about fitness, working out, or anything else related to pretty much anything but tech, go see your doctor. I'm a geek, not a medical professional.
This week marks a pretty big anniversary for me. I've closed my Apple Watch exercise rings every day for a year now, with only two missed workouts. Otherwise, I've exercised for 30 minutes or more each and every day for more than 365 days.
I credit the Apple Watch.
I've had a Series 2 Apple Watch for about four years, but I upgraded last year to a Series 4 for the fall notification, ECG, and phone. When I bought my new Watch, I decided I was going to use all the health and fitness tools it provided. Why not, right? I'm not getting any younger.
Apple Watch rings
The Apple Watch Activity app is known for its three rings: Exercise, movement, and standing. To close the exercise ring, you have to work out for 30 minutes. To close the movement ring, you have to move enough each day to burn a specified number of calories. The stand ring (which I'll talk more about) requires you to stand at least once per hour for 12 hours.
When I got my first Apple Watch, I paid almost no attention to the rings, but the idea of closing them seemed almost impossible. Sure, I exercised, but rarely did I go a full half-hour. Free weights didn't seem to close the rings nearly as easily as cardio. The Watch was (and still is) better suited for detecting cardio than strength training.
Do it for a week
I didn't wear my old Series 2 Watch very much. It got great use during our trip across the country and sometimes when shooting video or going out. But most of the time, when I was home, it just sat in a drawer. When I bought my Series 4 last year, with the goal of increasing my fitness, I promised myself that I'd wear it 24x7, taking it off for only an hour a day to charge.
Going back through my Activity records before getting the new Watch, I saw that I'd only closed the movement ring twice. I had never closed the exercise or even the standing ring. Apparently, my perception of my physical activity and my reality were quite different, at least while wearing the watch.
I usually did do a few squats each day before getting the Series 4 Watch. A few years back, I decided to attach a habit to another habit. It has always been my habit to visit the coffee machine a few times a day. I attached the new habit of doing a set of squats while waiting for the Keurig to brew its sacred brown elixir. So, I often did do some exercise, just not enough to register much on the infrequently worn Apple Watch.
But when I bought the new Series 4 Watch (which, after all, I bought for its fitness-related features), I decided to see if I could close my rings - once. That was it. On Nov. 2, 2019, I challenged myself to close my rings. For one day.
Standing usually happens pretty much automatically. But if you haven't stood at least once before 50 minutes past an hour, the watch reminds you. You have to get up and move around a bit in order to record a stand.
Movement, as it turns out, comes pretty easily if you're also exercising. But I increased my activity in the workshop and around the house. Doing so helped me get my movement level up to the point where I was burning many more calories each day. Yes, I still weigh more than I'd like, but at least I'm regularly burning more calories.
Exercise was the most straightforward ring. Exercise. For 30 minutes. That's it.
I do cardio on an elliptical machine here at home. I started with the resistance level set to four (an arbitrary number, but it will be relevant by the end of this article). I got on the machine and barely made it to 10 minutes before I felt completely overwhelmed. And that was peddling slowly.
But I promised myself I'd close the rings. So a few hours later, I made myself get on the thing for another 10 minutes. My exercise ring made it to 2/3 closed, but my movement ring was lagging. I spent some time in the workshop moving things around. That pushed the movement ring along.
Finally, around 11:30pm, I got back on the elliptical, did the final 10 minutes, and closed my exercise ring.
When you close a ring on the Apple Watch, you get a satisfying little animation and short musical tone. When you close all three, it's a mini fireworks display on your watch, along with a special tone.
I loved that notification. I loved that validation. I decided I wanted to do it again.
Having met my goal of closing the rings, I decided I'd try to go for a week. I won't kid you. My first week was hard. I didn't think I'd make it. But I did.
Do it for a month
I closed my rings for an eighth day. I decided I didn't feel like committing to another week of full exercise rings. I half-heartedly did a bit of exercise the next day, and none of my rings closed. I felt vaguely uneasy.
The day after that, I started with a short exercise session. Later, I had a lot of workshop work to do, which fired off my movement ring. That was when I realized why I'd felt uneasy the day before.
I had missed getting the ring notifications! I liked the idea of being able to tell myself I exercised regularly.
I used to lift weights two or three times a week back in the day. But, when I no longer worked across the street from a gym, that stopped. I bought a weight set for the house a few years later but rarely used it. It just took up space.
I hadn't been able to think of myself as a person who regularly works out. But having done it for a week, I liked having that feeling again. So on Nov. 13, I decided I'd go for a full month.
And I did.
Again, it was hard. But by the end of the month, I was doing the elliptical twice a day, for 15 minutes per session.
In the last week of the month, I started lifting some weights after I ended my cardio sessions. It's mostly upper body, but it's something I've continued with doing. I have also continued to do sets of squats while my coffee brews.
It was, by then, mid-December of 2019. We were headed into the holiday season and a new year. Little did we know that 2020 was going to be Dumpster Fire 2020, but that's something you all understand.
In any case, at the end of my first month, I realized I liked the idea of being someone who exercises each day. I didn't exactly enjoy my time on the elliptical, but I liked being able to brag (even just to myself and my wife) that I exercise twice, each and every day.
At the end of the month, I decided I didn't want to give it up. I'd go for another month.
Imprinting a lifestyle change
Let me be clear. I do not really enjoy the exercise activity itself. I don't hate it, but I am not in love with it either. Anybody who tells you, "Oh, once you start to exercise regularly, you'll love it" lies. At least that's how it is for me.
But I did (and still do) love the ego boost. I love being able to tell myself (and anyone else who will listen -- like you folks) that I exercise every day.
I went for that second month. In early January, my wife and I got super-sick. We came down with the mother of all colds (which we later wondered if it might have been an early strain of the coronavirus, but our doc thought that was unlikely).
In any case, I felt like uber-ass for much of the month. I still forced myself to close my rings. It was a herculean effort, but I'd reached the point where not closing my rings seemed unthinkable.
Every day, I dragged myself off the couch, did some movement, and did my exercises. I closed my rings. I kept deciding I'd continue to do so. I ultimately decided I'd try to go for a full year. And I did it.
Minor tweaks along the way
Around April, I changed up my goals a little bit. I stopped pushing to close my Stand ring but continued to hold myself accountable for closing the Move and Exercise rings.
The Stand ring requires you to stand once an hour for 12 hours in a day. It's not just standing; it's moving a certain (but not predictable) amount. This started to get in the way.
I was in a Zoom meeting once, when at 50 minutes past the hour, the Stand alert triggered. I was at my computer and my colleagues were OKy with me standing up in front of the screen. But since I also had to walk a bit, the standing didn't register. I didn't get that stand credit. Since it was too late in the day, I missed closing that ring.
On another occasion, I had finally gotten our pup to settle down. The little guy was asleep on my lap. I didn't want to have to get up and disturb him. I missed making all 12 stands. I ran out of available stand hours, and I missed closing the ring.
On yet another day, my sleep schedule was way out of whack. All three of these examples occurred in April, when we were just getting deep into the pandemic New Normal and nothing was normal yet. It took forever to fall asleep, so I slept in. By the time I had got out of bed, it was too late to close the stand ring because there were fewer than 12 hours left in the day.
I found that the Stand ring stressed me out. Trying to arbitrarily stand once every twelve hours meant interrupting things like meetings, sleep, and cozy dogs, whether the timing was good or not. I'm up a lot during the day anyway, so I'm not worried about it. I found that closing the Stand ring interrupted my flow and was too regimented for me.
As you can see, more often than not my Stand rings wound up closing on its own anyway. Cutting myself a little slack on the Stand ring allowed me to sustain the more important rings: Move and Exercise. This week marks a full year of doing so, so it seems to be a viable strategy.
Look, I am convinced that doctors tell you to go home and exercise just simply because it amuses them. I picture my doc chuckling after I leave, saying, "Haha, I convinced that chubby fool he has to exercise. He's going to be breathing heavily while I sit back and watch Scrubs reruns and laugh at him."
What? I told you not to trust this article for medical advice. That's just my twisted paranoid sense of humor acting up.
So was the working out worth it? Subjectively, I don't feel like I'm in any better shape. It still seems like just as much work as it always did to move, lift, climb, etc.
The numbers on the elliptical say different. First, I'm no longer doing two 15-minute sessions. In the beginning, I could not -- period -- get past about 15-minutes per session. It seemed impossible. And that was only on resistance level four.
Now, I do full 30-minute sessions. I start at a resistance level of 12 and slowly increase until it's at 18 or 20. I moved it to 22 for the first time last week.
So, based on the numbers, my stamina has more than doubled. And my strength while exercising quintupled. So it must be working.
Also, this is what both my wife and my doctor told me: "You may not feel a difference, but you don't know how you'd be feeling now if you hadn't done it." Given that we went into full lockdown mode at the beginning of the pandemic, who knows how sedentary I would have been without this exercise? It wouldn't have been good, that's for sure.
Plus, the bragging rights. Never underestimate the bragging rights. To have, as part of my self-identity, "I exercise every day. Period." is incredibly empowering.
I can't stop now. I've completed a year and met my goal, so I could just decide I'm done. But I'm not. I'm now a guy who exercises every day. That's who I am. So, I'm going to keep it up. I'll let you know next November (which will hopefully be a much more peaceful November) how it turns out.
I owe it to myself, and to the Apple Watch. I'm not sure I would have kept this up -- or be continuing it -- if I needed to notate my exercise on some kind of form or spreadsheet, or just do the exercise out of habit without the feedback the Watch gives.
It's the closing of the rings on the Watch, and the ability to scroll through the Activity history on my iPhone, that keeps me going. I'm a chart-oriented guy, and the ability to see those charts growing does it for me.