Health.app and me

I wasn’t the healthiest of children. I drank soda all the time and regarded sports with the sort of distant horror that a housewife feels for a dead rat a servant mentions cleaning up.1 Running, to my mind, was something that could happen to other people.
But such things can’t last forever, especially if you spend middle school getting strangely obsessed with mortality statistics. I didn’t so much make one concerted effort to be healthy as I’ve made a sort of slow, ongoing one. There were a few big moments in this, and a surprising amount of them were related to Apple’s Health app.
The first two weren’t directly linked, though, and we may as well go in a chronological order.

1: Swimming

My mother, bless her soul, kept trying to get me to like sports. She was on the “don’t let Grey die a young, unhealthy death” team. It took her a while to get me to swim, and by that point she’d gone through all the other school sports.2 Why it took that long to get to swimming, I don’t know – she was a swimmer in high school, quite liked it, put a lot more effort into it than I ever did.3 Eventually she got to swimming, and I actually kinda liked it. I stuck with it through the last couple years of middle school and all of high school, at least.4

2: Water

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where in the chronological order this one falls, but I’m pretty sure it was in this spot.
Y’see, in the “when I was a kid” category is “I drank a lot of soda.”5 This one isn’t attributable to my mom – she didn’t want her kids drinking caffeine, if she could avoid it, and any diet soda was Off Limits.6
My dad, on the other hand? Big fan of soda. So whenever I was at his house, I’d drink a lot of the stuff.
And then, at some point, I started to get interested in the nutrition information on stuff. And boy howdy, soda has some interesting numbers in there. All sorts of sugar, surprisingly numerous calories, and nothing of any value.
So one day I just stopped. I didn’t drink soda anymore. Sometime after that, I stopped drinking milk, but that’s unrelated,7 milk is healthy stuff. And now I only drink water.8
At some point last year, and here’s where Health.app comes in, I started keeping track of how much water I was drinking. Mostly because I like data for data’s own sake, but this was after #3 was a thing, so it fit into the stuff I was already doing. At first I was using that weird plant app to keep track, but oh god did I hate the design. It was clunky, didn’t seem to have any good way of tracking how much water you should be drinking behind the initial setup number, and it was clunky. I’ve said that twice, but it’s something that I really dislike.
Then the iOS 99 beta came out, public access, and it added the water metric to the HealthBook data store. So I dropped the crappy plant app and just started doing manual data-entry, which was only barely harder than the stupid plant thing.
Nowadays, I’m using Workflow to make the process even smoother, but I’m still not quite satisfied, and I may wind up making a project out of this. It’d be a good way to learn the HealthBook APIs. And the Apple Watch APIs, and the Today Widget APIs, and the Force Touch APIs. Basically I’d use it to learn full-stack iOS app development, why not?

3: Food

You’re expecting me to talk about how I started eating healthier in here, which sorta happened? A little bit, occasionally. It’s an ongoing project that the dining hall doesn’t make any easier. But no, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Y’see, when I was registering for classes for the first semester of college, I did a really good job of planning. I made sure I’d have a few minutes in between all the classes to get from building to building,10 plotted out the courses I’d be taking so they’d be the best way to get myself on track for all four years, and all in all had a nice setup for myself.
Then the first day of classes hit and I realized I’d forgotten about meals. I ate lunch once a week11 for that entire semester. It got to the point where I was legitimately concerned that I was going to starve myself, so I downloaded one of those dieting apps and started using it exactly wrong – making sure I was meeting a minimum of calories, rather than staying below a maximum.12
And then the semester ended and I just kept it up. If anyone asks me for a reason, I open the Health app, show them the page of graphs that is the Dashboard, and tell them that I like graphs.

4: Apple Watch

Over Christmastime I wound up with an Apple Watch. It was a mix of factors, including family members who gave me money in lieu of presents and some strong hints towards the Apple Watch,13 my sister shouting ‘YOLO’ at me, Best Buy having a good sale, and my taxes-and-budget stuff working out positively. Plus a touch of “I want to develop for iOS at some point, and WatchOS is part of all the app ideas I have at the moment, but I need to know the paradigms first.”14
Apps aside, though, the big thing that the Apple Watch has over my old Pebble is fitness tracking. It links up with the M-series chip in my phone, and supplements it with a second set of gyroscope data and a heart rate sensor. Plus some onboard processing that I can use if I want to go out for a walk or bike ride or something15 and not lug my phone along.16
And there’s the Activity app, the foremost fitness feature of the watch. It has been remarkably effective on me, which I found rather impressive. There’s the Stand Hours ring, the innermost, which ensures you spend at least a minute of at least twelve hours a day moving around. Which wasn’t too hard, considering the whole ’50 minutes of class and then walk to the next class’ schedule I’ve got going on.
Then there’s the Exercise ring, aiming for 30 minutes of ‘vigorous exercise’ a day. I put that in quotes because I’m unsure in what definition of ‘vigorous’ Apple is using. And ‘exercise,’ at that: usually I can fill this ring on walking around alone.17
And then there’s the final one, Active Calories. This is the one that’s had the biggest effect18 on me. All of them had a bit of an influence – give me a gamified system and I can’t resist trying to win. I have an overwhelming desire to fill all three of those rings every day.
The Active Calories ring started off fairly easy.19 But then it started to ramp up, because that’s what it does when you keep filling that ring. The goal is now almost twice what it was when I started, and I’m still overshooting it pretty consistently. Which has forced some changes in my life – I’m finally taking advantage of the gym on campus.20 Almost every day, I go down to the equipment room and ride one of the stationary bikes for a while.21 I’ve had a variety of sources of input all saying “go use the gym,” ranging from my own mind pointing out that it’s part of my tuition that I’m not taking advantage to my roommate who enjoys going to the gym to the various ‘dieting’ apps I’ve used.22 None of them worked. And then I got an Apple Watch, and suddenly I’m going to the gym every day just so I can fill a little red ring.

So that’s where I am, at the moment. I’m not a fitness buff, by any means.23 But I’m living a fairly healthy life, and I’m still working on improving. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll come back to this post and have another item or two to add.


  1. Don’t get me wrong, this is still my opinion on sports, but I’ve stopped being so vocal in my disregard for them – why ruin other people’s fun? 
  2. Except football. That one was a non-starter. 
  3. She’s the reason that I know how to prevent and/or deal with ‘hair turning green’ problem that crops up if you spend too much time in the chlorinated water. 
  4. I don’t swim in college, but I do teach swim lessons and lifeguard and stuff, so the pool is still a big thing in my life. And I’m taking scuba classes now! It’s cool. 
  5. Or pop, or cola, depending on where in the US live. 
  6. A mix of the unknown-bordering-on-carcinogenic properties of the artificial sweeteners and the fact that thy all just taste gross to her and me both. 
  7. The story there functionally consists of “I’m a Choir Nerd and milk makes your vocal chords less vocal chord-y, basically.” 
  8. And occasionally a hint of PowerAde, but that’s only because the water spigot in the dining hall is also the PowerAde spigot, and it takes a bit of time to clean out. It’s always accidental- I’ve referred to the resulting combination as “naturopathic ass-water.” 
  9. I think? Might’ve been 8, I can’t recall. 
  10. With mixed success- I didn’t realize how far the math building is from the music building, but oh well. 
  11. Technically including weekends, though only because the dining hall only serves brunch on weekends, and I’m too lazy to walk anywhere off-campus to get food. 
  12. It’s a good thing I started paying attention to that, because the way I’d been going I actually was slowly starving myself, based on the FDA’s caloric intake statistics. Whoops. 
  13. Which, to be fair, I’d been dropping strong hints about since it came out, so, y’know. 
  14. That one hasn’t worked out right yet, actually – my Apple Watch is mildly defective, doesn’t actually run any third-party apps. That’s why I haven’t done a review yet – I’m holding off while I work with Apple Support to get it fixed. The main slowdown there is me, because I haven’t had time to actually sit down and have the long phone call with them that’s necessary to get a replacement authorized. 
  15. Running is still in the “something that can happen to other people” category. 
  16. Because, y’know, an iPhone is so much work to carry around. 
  17. To be fair, I am an aggressive walker. 
  18. Or is it ‘affect?’ Dammit, why hasn’t the English language fixed this stupid affect/effect thing yet 
  19. Well, no, it didn’t, because when I first set up the watch I was like ‘sure, I’m a fairly active person’ and set it on that and then miserably failed to fill that ring for the first week. The next week, the Watch took pity on me and set it back down to the ‘barely not a couch potato’ level. 
  20. I still don’t use the weight room, because all those heavy things combined with my lack of knowledge about lifting strikes me as a great way to injure myself. 
  21. I like the stationary bike because it’s low-impact, a good calorie burn, and I can read or watch YouTube videos or whatever on my phone. None of that ‘paying attention to where I’m going’ nonsense that a real bike has. 
  22. I went through a couple – I started with Lose It!, but I found it to be too opinionated towards the whole ‘losing weight’ goal – which, I suppose, makes sense, considering the name. Now I’m using MyFitnessPal, which I like a bit better. It’s not as opinionated, and it integrates a bit better with HealthKit, as far as I can tell. 
  23. Nor can I be described as ‘buff’ at all, a play on words of which I am far too proud