New Year's resolution: Close your Apple Watch activity rings for a healthy 2020

Movement and exercise are critical for a healthy life. Let's make a New Year's resolution together to make fitness a priority. In this article, David Gewirtz shows how the Apple Watch can help you do just that.

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I closed my rings in December. Let's do it together in January.

Welcome to 2020. It's not only a new year, it's a new decade. The idea of marking a new year with festivities and promises of virtuous behavior is not new. In fact, History.com tells us that promises of virtuous actions go back more than 4,000 years, to ancient Babylon. We can infer from that fact that broken New Year's resolutions also probably go back about 4,000 years.

And yet, it's a good practice to begin a new year (not to mention a new decade) with some consideration of the year to come. What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want to change? How do you hope to better yourself? What tangible actions can you take to reach your goals?

As for me, this year was somewhat different. I made my primary New Year's resolution right after Thanksgiving in November and completed it on Tuesday night, December 31. My resolution was to close all my activity rings on my Apple Watch every day in December.

I know. Doing a New Year's resolution before the new year seems weird, even for me. But it seemed to make sense to get a jump start. I bought my new Apple Watch at the beginning of November and got caught up in the idea of closing my rings. But because I didn't start right at the beginning of November and because I missed two days, I wasn't able to get a perfect month.

Here's the thing. Anyone who knows me knows I have an unhealthy obsession with charts. Especially perfect charts. And when the monthly chart for my Apple Watch rings wasn't closed in November, it hurt my soul. I decided, "What better way to get a head start on the new decade than to close all my rings in December and go for a perfect month?"

And so I did. It was a lot harder than I expected. There were also some unexpected benefits.

Let's talk about those activity rings

The Apple Watch comes with an Activity app that tightly integrates with the various sensors in the Apple Watch. It's able to tell your heart rate (and, by extension, level of exertion), as well as how much you move. Combining these sensors allows the Activity app to track your movement, your exercise, and how often you stand up.

These, not coincidentally, are the three rings of the Apple Watch: Move, Exercise, and Stand. Move tracks the calories you burn, whether from exercise or other activity. I often complete my daily Move goal by working in the workshop on ZDNet projects or other around-the-house projects. Exercise tracks your exercise, which the Apple Watch considers anything with the intensity of a brisk walk. Basically, it tracks when you get your heart rate up. Stand asks you to stand up once an hour, for at least a minute, and move around a bit.

Although I generally complete my Move goal each day just through my normal activity, sometimes I need to complete my Exercise goal to fully close my Move ring because it is calorie-based.

You can tell your Apple Watch how many calories you want to burn to complete your Move ring, but you can't set your Exercise or Stand goals.

Your Exercise ring will close when you complete 30 minutes of exercise in a day. It works best with cardio because it's difficult for the Watch to track resistance training -- although you can add your resistance times to the app for credit. I like to meet my Exercise goal in two fifteen minute sessions each day. It breaks up my day and I get that quiet "me" time twice a day.

When I first started, the Stand goal seemed to be the gimme of the set. All you have to do is stand, after all. But, as a writer and a programmer, I found that I often sit at my desk for far more than an hour. The Stand reminder does help me be mindful of making sure I move. Interestingly, I used to have a really sore back when I got up from my work at the end of a three or four hour session. Now that I stand every hour, I've found that my back isn't hurting when I leave my desk. So that's a big benefit.

Stand also helps make me mindful of the overall ring-closing goal. If you've had a very sedentary day and don't move much or exercise much until 11pm, you can still complete your Move and Exercise goals. But you can't complete your Stand goal. You need to make sure that you stand at least once an hour for twelve hours, which means you have to be aware of your goal all day long. There's no cramming at the end of the day to make up for missed Stands.

Is this good for me?

Here's where I tell you to see your doctor. My doctor reminded me that the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, which turns out to be 30 minutes a day for five of the seven days. If you use the Activity app and close your rings, you'll be able to remain conscious of meeting the AHA's recommendations.

But if you have any question at all about the advisability of this fitness regime, definitely see your doctor. In fact, go see your doctor anyway.

What about those perfect months?

A perfect month is achievable if you close your rings every day. That's seven days a week, not five, which means you'll be doing 210 minutes of exercise a week instead of 150. Some trainers recommend a recovery day, others don't. Again, you'll need to do your research and make your own decisions about what's right for you.

I found exercising seven days a week both easy and hard. Towards the end of the month, as Christmas and New Year's Eve rolled around, it got a lot harder. I didn't want to exercise on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year's Eve. But I was so committed to completing a perfect chart that I did it anyway.

In terms of benefits, I can tell you that setting a tough fitness goal for the month and meeting it is a point of enormous pride for me. I've exercised regularly on and off throughout my life, but never for more than three days in a week. Doing two workouts daily (for me, it's mostly the recumbent elliptical during cold weather) is new and kind of exciting.

After a month, I don't actually feel like I'm any more fit. But I can tell you that the resistance level I set on the machine when I started seems ludicrously light now. Since mid-November, I've more than doubled my resistance setting and also doubled my METs. METs are metabolic equivalents and are measures of physical activity. I'll probably increase that again in the next week or so.

So is the exercise I'm doing making me more fit? The machine certainly thinks so. I'll check back in with you in a few months, especially once I add in some weight training to my daily routine.

There is one failing of the Activity ring mechanism. You can't add new rings or increase your Exercise goal. I'd like to add in a new ring for meeting a weight lifting goal, or increase my Exercise goal to an hour a day, where half is spent lifting. For now, anything outside the strict confines of the Activity ring limits need to be tracked with another app.

When I first started closing my rings, the idea that I'd want to add more or increase my time would have seemed impossible. In fact, the idea of closing my rings for even one day seemed impossible, never mind a week, or for 31 perfect days. So, even if I'm not really feeling it yet, perhaps I am getting just a little more fit each day.

A New Year's resolution

You might expect that my next New Year's resolution is to close my rings every day in 2020, but it's not. I don't want to put that much pressure on myself. Instead, I'm going to set a goal month-by-month. My goal for January is another perfect month. I'll think about February when February comes around.

As for you, what if you set an exercise, movement, and standing goal for each day? You don't need an Apple Watch, but if you have one, try the Activity app. Share with us your goals in the comments below. I'll revisit this at the beginning of February and you can again share your triumphs and challenges in the comments section for that article.

Welcome to 2020. Welcome to a new decade. Be fit. Be strong. Stay sane. Thanks for sharing this journey with me and all of your fellow ZDNet readers, friends, and colleagues.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.