Since the debut of the first Apple Watch in April 2015 (yes, it's really been five years), this smartwatch has evolved from a wrist-worn extension of the iPhone to a sleek piece of arm candy that can tell you a whole lot about your health. You just can't deny how big of a push Apple has made in the last couple of years to make health a cornerstone of its products.
From helping people lose weight, to saving pregnancies, to preventing heart attacks, the Apple Watch ($193 at Amazon) has become synonymous with personal trainer, health coach and all-around health and fitness champ. If you want it to be, the Apple Watch can be your right hand (wo)man that does the simplest things -- like tell you when it's time to take a few steps -- and the most complex, like detect abnormal heart rhythms.
Read more: Our original Apple Watch review revisited, five years on
Of course, your Apple Watch should never take the place of a doctor or other health professional, but the health features it has gained over the years are truly impressive. Here are the top ways your Apple Watch can help you get healthier -- and potentially save your life.
1. Warn you of loud noise to protect against hearing damage
Most of the time, people only seek care for hearing loss after it's too late. This is because hearing loss occurs gradually, due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, particularly loud music and other noise.
Apple hopes to fight back against environmental noise factors with its Noise app, a feature for the Apple Watch that detects loud noise (above 90 decibels) and pings you with a notification about the risk of hearing loss. The Noise app debuted in September last year, when WatchOS 6 rolled out to Apple Watches.
Read more: Two former football players share their stories with hearing loss
2. Track your menstrual cycle
Finally, Apple catches up to the femtech industry by adding the new Cycle Tracking feature to the Apple Watch, as well as integrating the feature into the Health app on iPhone ($390 at Amazon). Tracking your period is important for understanding your overall health: Irregular menstrual cycles can potentially indicate conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, osteoporosis and the transition to menopause.
Read: Menstrual cups, panties and organic tampons: 5 brands making your period easier
3. Detect falls and call for help
When the Apple Watch Series 4 came out with its fall detection feature, people giggled about those old "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials on TV. But falling is no laughing matter for people who really can't help themselves up: People have credited this feature with saving their lives since its debut.
The fall detection feature works by sounding an alarm if you fall and sending you a push notification asking if you're OK. If the watch doesn't detect any movement, and you don't tap the push notification, it calls emergency services and predesignated emergency contacts for help. Here's how to enable fall detection on your Apple Watch.
4. Alert you if you have an abnormal heart rhythm
There've been mixed reviews from both consumers and experts about Apple Watch's ECG app since its release on the Apple Watch 4 in 2018, but it's hard to deny how important this feature has become. It's been credited with helping save a few lives.
The app detects atrial fibrillation (aka AFib), one of the most common abnormal heart rhythms, via a 30-second test. These irregular heartbeats aren't always medically dangerous, but they can lead to complications such as stroke, blood clots and even heart failure.
WatchOS 6 also occasionally checks your heart rate with its automatic heart rate sensor, and will send you an alert if it notices anything abnormal. If you get an AFib notification from your Apple Watch, you should check in with your doctor.
Here's how to use the ECG app on Apple Watch.
5. Detect high and low heart rate
Similar to the AFib feature, Apple Watch can also detect high heart rates (tachycardia) and low heart rates (bradycardia). First, you need to manually enter what would be high and low heart rates for you in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone (instructions here). If your watch detects heart rates above or below those ranges, it'll notify you.
Some researchers and medical professionals worry that this feature can result in false alarms. Very fit people, for example, often have lower-than-normal resting heart rates, which can trigger a notification. Even if this is the case, something is better than nothing -- my take on the heart rate detection feature is that a few false alarms are worth a single life saved.
6. Calm you down in times of stress
There are a lot of meditation apps out there, but if you have an Apple Watch, there's one already conveniently installed on your wrist. The native Breathe app can help you calm down in an instant with breathing exercises designed to slow you down and bring you into the present moment.
In a world in which many people suffer from burnout and overwhelm on a daily basis, this unassuming app can do a lot for your health. Science says that deep, intentional breathing really can reduce stress and anxiety. Next time you feel your mind getting away from you, open the Breathe app for a few moments of calm.
7. Activity tracking
Activity tracking is perhaps the most obvious health feature on Apple Watch, but let's not forget its importance. Physical activity is critical for your overall health: Exercising regularly can relieve stress, make you happier, protect your bones and joints, build up your muscles and improve your cardiovascular health.
You don't have to be a die-hard fitness fiend to reap the benefits of the activity tracking features on Apple Watch. If anything, just pay attention to the Stand Ring, the part of your activity rings that records how often you stand up and move around each day, and heed the gentle reminders that you've been sitting for some time. Just a little bit of movement every day goes a long way. You can also use it simply to track your steps -- walking is great exercise.
Bonus: Compile your health data for research
You can now download the Apple Research app, where you can join three massive research studies that will look at hearing health, women's health and heart health. Apple is conducting the studies in conjunction with some of the world's largest health bodies, including the World Health Organization.
The benefit to you? By sharing your data with medical researchers, you can contribute to future generations of health care and health technology -- Apple Watch's irregular heartbeat feature was informed and validated by the Apple Heart Study, the first virtual large-scale study of its kind, and we expect these new studies to eventually inform new Apple Watch and iPhone health features, too.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.