Samsung Health

With more time on my hands due to lockdown I’ve been making an attempt to get fitter.

I was, according to the BMI charts, obese. Being obese put me at higher risk of serious complications should I contract coronavirus, which helped to focus my mind.

Working from home gives me about an hour a day back that I would otherwise have spent commuting, so I decided I should use some of that time to do more exercise. Diet was probably more important. My work diet was not good – large, unhealthy lunches and far too many snacks. At the weekend I’d often go for a long walk, but that would be via a cafe for a fry up and a coffeeshop for a piece of cake and a hugely calorific coffee.

That meant I had ample room for improvement on both diet and exercise without really trying too hard. As I already own a Samsung phone and a Galaxy Watch, the Samsung Health app was the obvious choice to keep track of progress.

It’s a reasonably comprehensive suite. From the watch it can take heart rate, step count and workout data. You can manually track weight, food and water intake, caffeine, blood pressure, and a number of other metrics. Some of those can also be entered through the watch. I don’t wear the watch at night, as I find it uncomfortable in bed, so it can’t automatically track sleep, but that can be entered manually.

The food tracker has slots for six entries per day – breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack. Other than lacking second breakfast it would do a hobbit proud. You can search the database for most food items, and it seems to have most of the major brands and supermarkets covered. Sometimes the search can be awkward and it can take a few attempts to find the right thing. For example, searching for tinned tuna only returns generic results:

Starting with a brand name helps to narrow it down to specific products:

Once you get used to the quirks, it’s usually quite easy to find the right things. You have to be careful with portion sizes – for example, selecting bread will usually set a portion size of a single slice, rather than the two that would be more useful when having a sandwich. It automatically remembers frequently selected items as favourites, and you can store complete meals for ease of entry. I’ve stored my standard breakfast of cereal with milk and orange juice.

The nutrition information is mostly accurate, matching the values listed on the food packaging for the calories and the breakdown of fat, protein and carbohydrates. It doesn’t seem to have particularly comprehensive data for the other nutrients such as vitamins and iron. While it does give a daily breakdown for them, I wouldn’t overly rely on it. At this stage, I’m mainly interested in the big picture, so it’s sufficient for my needs.

If you have a weight loss goal, you can set a weekly target and have the app tell you if it thinks your net calorie deficit (calories burnt – calories eaten) is on track. It’s only really of use when looking back at previous days, as during the day the net deficit will go up and down. You’d expect to be below target before dinner, and above target afterwards. Then, as the calories burnt at rest feed in through the evening, you’ll close in on the target.

Aiming for a target weight loss relies on accurate activity tracking, and that’s where the watch comes in.

Since I’ve had the watch, I’ve let it track activity automatically. It usually picks up on a walk after about half a mile. Now that I’m making an effort, I’m starting the tracking directly from the watch.

I have found an anomaly in the data when it’s transferred to the phone app. I went for a walk, taking in some steep hills to get my heart rate up. According to the watch, my heart rate was in the vigorous range for 35 out of the 55 minutes. The app thought it was 5 minutes out of the 55, and using exactly the same source data:

I can only assume that the phone app uses a slightly different threshold for what counts as vigorous. Moderate is described as 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, while vigorous is 70-90%, where the maximum heart rate is 220 minus age. Since my average heart rate for the whole workout was close to the dividing line between moderate and vigorous, I assume that the issue is simply that the watch and phone app are rounding the numbers differently.

The biggest drawback to Samsung Health is that it’s a closed ecosystem. It even lacks a web interface – the data is in the app and that’s it. It’s possible to manually download all of your data, but that’s not something you’d do often. Third party integrations are also limited. There are some smart scales and other health trackers that can sync with Samsung Health, but the process is apparently clunky and prone to failure.

There are better options

Dedicated devices, such as those made by Fitbit, may be more reliable. The food tracker MyFitnessPal probably has better food tracking, especially using the paid tier. Google Fit offers a more comprehensive ecosystem for linking together different sources of data.

For my needs, though, Samsung Health is more than adequate. It’s there by default on Samsung phones and works well with the watch I already own. It’s making me more conscious of my diet and giving me a daily incentive to keep active. I’ve already moved from obese to merely overweight, so it’s doing the job!

in Random Musings

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