Summer is here, which means temperatures are rising everywhere. If you’re like many people, you’ve been spending more time outdoors in the sunshine lately (as you should!). With warmer weather and more time in the sun comes an increased importance of staying hydrated. While you’ve likely read or heard about it before, you may not fully understand the actual importance of hydration.
The importance of hydration
Did you know that the human body is made up of about 60% water? Or that the liquid portion of our blood is about 90% water? These two facts alone can help shed light on why hydration is so essential to our health. Water plays a role in supporting and maintaining the function of nearly every system in our bodies, including the heart, brain, muscles and other organs.
Without water, humans can survive for only a few days. The primary ways that our bodies lose water is through urination and sweating.
There are many factors that influence our fluid needs, such as:
- Physical activity & intensity. The more you exercise, the more you are likely to sweat, which removes fluid from the body and therefore increases fluid needs. Being physically active naturally increases thirst as well, regardless of sweating.
- Breastfeeding & pregnancy, which both increase fluid needs to support the health of the mother, growing fetus and newborn baby.
- Illness that involves diarrhea or vomiting, since these both involve water losses and can quickly lead to dehydration if fluids are not increased.
- Conditions like kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTI’s). Both are more likely to occur in a dehydrated state, and increasing fluid intake has been shown to be a valid treatment option.
- Age. Older adults are more prone to dehydration partly due to a reduced sense of thirst and generally lower fluid intake. Seniors are amongst the most common groups of people to be dehydrated.
With these things in mind, it becomes easier to understand why drinking enough fluids is so important. Yet the benefits of hydration extend beyond these basic needs, and many of them are often overlooked.
5 benefits of hydration
Staying hydrated is about so much more than quenching your thirst! Here are five important roles that fluids play in our bodies which have a huge impact on health.
1. Physical performance.
Water is essential to fueling any type of workout both before, during and after exercise. Fluids help to regulate body temperature to prevent overheating, and also lubricates joints, which can help prevent injury. In addition, water helps deliver oxygen to the body via the blood, which also impacts performance.
2. Brain function.
Brain cells require water to function properly, and a lack of adequate fluids can lead to problems with thinking and reasoning. In addition, headaches and migraines are more common in people who are dehydrated.
3. Natural detoxifier.
Fluids help remove toxins and other waste products from the body via processes like urination and sweating. In addition, the bowels require water to work properly, so water also plays a role in producing stools and protecting against constipation, which is another way the body removes toxins.
4. Digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Water is essential for proper digestion as it is a major component of saliva and mucous. It also protects against nutrient deficiencies since many vitamins and minerals are water-soluble and need adequate fluids to be absorbed and utilized in the body.
5. Supports a healthy weight.
Research has shown that increasing water intake can help control appetite and support weight loss efforts. This is especially true if sugar-sweetened beverages are replaced with water, which will reduce calorie intake.
How much water do you need?
You have probably heard that we all need eight glasses (8 ounces each) of water each day. Yet this recommendation is an arbitrary guideline that doesn’t take into account lifestyle factors which can increase needs. Other conditions, such as heart or kidney failure, can actually decrease fluid needs and should also be taken into account.
Ultimately, there are no specific guidelines for how much you need to drink due to it being so individualized from person to person. However, a good rule of thumb is to divide your weight in pounds by two to determine how many ounces you should aim for each day. For example, a healthy 150-pound person would need at least 75 ounces (which is about nine cups) per day at baseline.
Tips for proper hydration
If getting enough fluids seems like a struggle for you, try following these tips to gradually begin increasing your intake.
1. Remember that not only pure water counts. Feel free to experiment with sparkling waters and flavored waters if plain water isn’t appealing to you. Beverages made from water, like tea, are also hydrating. Other fluids like milk and juice also contribute to fluid intake, yet aren’t as hydrating as water.
2. Try eating more water-rich foods. Examples include berries, melon, peaches, citrus fruits, cucumber, celery, leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and broths.
3. Pay attention to thirst. This can be a learned sensation if you’re not used to feeling thirsty. Try to set a habit of drinking both before and after eating regardless of your thirst level. You may notice that over time your body starts to desire more fluids and thirst will become more noticeable.
4. Keep hydrating beverages on hand at all times. Visual cues can be extremely beneficial in reminding us to drink. Keep a water bottle in your purse, car, desk or bedroom to help signal you to drink more often.
5. Make it a habit. Habits take time to form, but every step counts. Try creating a goal to finish at least one or two water bottles before lunchtime, or a goal to drink a certain number of ounces each day. Setting alarms on your phone to drink can also be helpful in establishing this habit.
Some signs and symptoms of dehydration to look for that may indicate that you’re not hydrated enough include:
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Abnormally low blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Dark urine
Staying hydrated is important for so many reasons, as water is an essential component of the body and normal bodily functions. There are many factors that influence individual fluid needs, as well as many tips you can follow to help ensure proper hydration.