Apple Watch and activity tracking: Everything you need to know!

Apple Watch
Apple Watch (Image credit: iMore)

The fitness tracking on Apple Watch goes beyond just counting steps or tracking calories, instead focusing more on your overall health, differentiating between movement and actual exercise, and encouraging you to stand more than you already might. Performing the activities suggested by your Apple Watch helps fill up those rings in the Activity app, but how does Apple measure all of that, anyway? Well not to worry, we've got you covered right here.

Here, you'll find absolutely everything you need to know about the Apple Watch and activity tracking, from how to set it up and sharing activities to starting workouts.

Let's start with what the Activity app actually does, what it tells you, and what kind of data it collects.

The Rings

The Stand, Exercise, and Move rings make up the central display for your overall activity as captured by your Apple Watch. Scrolling down in the Activity app on your watch will show you an hour-by-hour breakdown of your activity for each (when you've moved, when you've recorded exercise minutes, and when you've stood).


This one seems pretty easy. You fill the stand ring by standing up for one minute an hour in 12 separate hours. What this ring and the alert that comes with it are actually telling you is that you haven't moved in a little while. So when your Apple Watch notifies you that it's time to stand, don't just stand up and stay still, but walk around a little bit. Take a short stroll around your office, or if you're at home, go check the mail.


This ring tracks a specific kind of activity. Apple defines exercise as anything equivalent to a brisk walk or more that raises your heart rate consistently. Apple monitors your heart rate and your movement data to make sure you're actually exercising, and you can track workouts using the Workout app on your Apple Watch. Additionally, you can feed workout data into the Activity app using third-party workout apps that support this feature, meaning you can use all of the features provided to you by your favorite workout app while still filling the Exercise ring.

One thing to note about the Apple Watch's exercise measurements is that, as you more, they will change over time. So the same activities that would potentially help you close your Exercise ring when you first got your Apple Watch may only get you part of the way there after months or even years of consistent activity. The Apple Watch learns your habits, and will consistently push you to go further.


This ring shows how many calories you've burned throughout the day. It takes into account everything from motion to heart rate data, but it represents your total movement in a 24-hour period, not just exercise. You work towards a calorie goal that you set, and as you continue to wear your Apple Watch, it will be better able to measure how you burn those calories.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.