By Stephen Pate – The Apple Watch Activity App tracks your wheelchair activities automatically helping you improve your fitness.

Apple Watch wheelchair fitness has three major components: 1. Setup with the iPhone, 2.  Tracking daily Activity and 3. Fitness Workouts. I will cover all three. For Setup see my earlier post How To Easily Setup Your Apple Watch For Wheelchair Fitness

There are 2.2 million Americans and 250,000 Canadians who use wheelchairs. We tend to be less fit than the regular population since we can’t run or walk for exercise.  Guess how many fitness apps or devices track people using wheelchairs. None, zip. Not the Fitbit nor the Microsoft Band, not one of them.

Apple recognized this need and designed features to motivate and track fitness activity for people who use wheelchairs. The wheelchair features were introduced in the Fall of 2016.

Apple Watch Wheelchair Activity App and Rings

“The Activity app provides a snapshot of your daily activity, with the goal of closing each of the three rings every day.” (all quotes are from Apple  Watch Accessibility)

Apple Watch - Activity Digital Face - <span style="color: #ff0000;"><strong>red ring</strong></span> = move energy, <strong><span style="color: #00ff00;">green ring</span></strong> = exercise minutes, and <strong><span style="color: #00ffff;">cyan ring</span></strong> = # times you move or stretch per 12 hours (screenshot NJN Network)

Apple Watch – Activity Digital Face – red ring = move energy, green ring = exercise minutes, and cyan ring = # times you move or stretch per 12 hours (screenshot NJN Network)

For wheelchair users, the Activity rings are Move (outer red ring), Exercise (2nd green ring) and Roll (inner cyan ring).

You can change the Apple Watch face to emphasize the Activity app as the dominant theme or as a complication or secondary screen of another watch face.

It’s fun to personalize the watch faces and since fitness is a concern of mine, I like to see the rings prominently displayed.

I like Apple’s approach to fitness reporting – rings allow you to get a quick snapshot of how you’re doing throughout each day without drilling down on exact active calories burned, minutes of exercise or number of times I stretched each hour.

One of the Activity App detail screens on Apple Watch (screenshot NJN Network)

One of the Activity App detail screens on Apple Watch (screenshot NJN Network)

However, once you open the Activity App you can see all the metrics. Something for everybody.

Move Goal

The cool thing about Activities is the Apple Watch is automatically tracking how your day is going in the wheelchair. There is nothing to do other than glance at the rings and messages like “get moving.”

Exercise Goal

Your Apple Watch is not tracking all wheelchair movement as Exercise.  It tracks activity that is more than normal. The Watch looks at heart rate and movement indicators.

“Apple defines exercise as any activity you perform that is the equivalent of a brisk walk or more.” iMore  For example, it may not consider warm-up and cool down periods as Exercise if the heart rate isn’t elevated. I usually get 18 minutes of exercise from a 25 minute session.

I’ll cover Exercise in more detail in the next article on Workouts.

Roll Goal

“Instead of a Stand goal, the Roll goal encourages you to roll or stretch every hour. For your Exercise and Move goals, Activity measures pushes, so active calories are calculated more accurately.” (Apple)

The Roll goal is trying to get us to change position 12 times a day. It’s easy to be sedentary but it actually feels better to stop the Netflix movie and change positions, transfer or roll around a bit in the house.

Hint – if you  are nocturnal try turning off “Do  Not Disturb” (swipe up from the bottom of the watch face). You  will probably get credit for those late night rolls and pushes.

Apple Watch Activity App - Activity Analog Face (screenshot NJN Network)

Apple Watch  – Activity Analog Face (screenshot NJN Network)

Setting Wheelchair Goals on the Apple Watch

“Instead of a Stand goal, the Roll goal encourages you to roll or stretch every hour. For your Exercise and Move goals, Activity measures pushes, so active calories are calculated more accurately.”

“Sensors are configured to address different surface types, inclines and transition moments, such as moving from a wheelchair to a seat at your desk, or from your chair to your car.” (Apple)

I started at 340 calories for my red ring goal and learned that I was only burning 200 active calories so I adjusted it downward. Then after 2 weeks with the Apple Watch I was burning 300+ a day and the App suggested a new goal.

Change your daily Move goal, Activity App, Apple Watch (screenshot NJN Network)

Change your daily Move goal, Activity App, Apple Watch (screenshot NJN Network)

People with disabilities should not accept unreasonable goals, especially goals set by a tiny computer. For my disability, I exercise 24 minutes every second day with small incremental increases each week if my progress doesn’t increase muscle pain.

Everybody has their own challenges and should set their personal goals, preferably with help from a doctor, physiotherapist or kinesiologists. My doctor, for example, started me at 5 minutes every 2 days adding 1 minute each week.

Exercise and Roll Goals are not user modified

Inexplicably, Apple does not allow you to change the Exercise or Roll Goals.

The Roll goal is not as hard to meet as it seems. “Sensors are configured to address different surface types, inclines and transition moments, such as moving from a wheelchair to a seat at your desk, or from your chair to your car.” (Apple)

Moving in your wheelchair 12 times a day is something most people do.  However, if you spend part of your day in a power wheelchair, you may not be used to 12 turns around the house or apartment. It does give you credit for stretching and transfers.  The goal is to get us moving and not staying in one position, a good idea. I noticed that the app can be fooled by rolling around in a power chair.

A user modified Exercise goal would allow people with different capabilities to achieve their own personal goals. Trying to map your life to Apple’s idea of some ideal is not practical nor wise when your body isn’t ready.

However, I did increase my Exercise over a three-week period to match or exceed their 30-minute goal by adding a few different Workouts, the topic of the next article in the series on the Apple Watch. As a result I experienced more pain than usual.

Activities without the wheelchair customization is a complex topic on the Apple Watch. Google the topic for more information. The next post will cover Workout routines for people using wheelchairs.

Apple Watch is available from Apple.com and other resellers.

PS – I’ve been using manual and power wheelchairs since 2001 and now have a TiLite TR and a Panthera X wheelchairs.