There are many things in life you can live without. Water is not one of them. Just a few days of deprivation and the consequences can be lethal. This isn’t surprising when you consider that the majority of your body – about 60% – is water. That’s a lot of water, but then again, every cell in your body needs it. It’s essential for digestion, delivering nutrients, carrying away waste, regulating your body temperature, cushioning joints and a whole lot more! Every day you lose water, primarily through sweat and urine, and that water must be replaced.
Drink When You’re Thirsty
How much water do you really need? Guidelines from the Institute of Medicine state that for the vast majority of healthy people “the combination of thirst and usual drinking behavior, especially the consumption of fluids with meals, is sufficient to maintain normal hydration.” Purposefully drinking more is recommended when you’re active (especially for sustained, vigorous activity) or when you’re exposed to heat (like time spent outdoors on a hot summer’s day). Additional guidelines come from the European Food Safety Authority based on a recent and extensive scientific review. They define an adequate water intake for most women as 6 ½ cups (1.6 L) daily and for most men 8 cups (2 L). This amount includes beverages of all kind, not just water. Coffee, tea, milk, juice, soft drinks and even alcohol all count towards your daily quota. This guideline assumes that you live in a moderate climate, are moderately active and that an additional 20% of your overall need for water will be met through food. Most fruits and vegetables, for example, are at least 80% water and contribute significantly to your daily intake.
The Impact of Dehydration
Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you feel tired. Since water makes up about 80% of your brain, not getting enough can lead to headaches and impact your ability to think, learn and concentrate. There is also a link between dehydration and a greater risk of high blood sugar, gallstones and constipation.
Your Kidneys Need Water
If you care about your kidneys (and you should!), getting enough water or other fluids has to be a priority. Your kidneys are absolutely essential to good health. They filter waste out of your blood and dispose of that waste in your urine. Strong evidence says that not drinking enough water significantly increases your risk of kidney stones, which can be extremely painful. A lack of water may also raise your risk of urinary tract infections, as well as compromise the long-term health of your kidneys, including your risk of chronic kidney disease.
Older Adults Don’t Drink Enough Water
As we get older the water content of our body decreases, along with our ability to detect thirst. Dehydration is more common, more serious and one of the top ten causes of hospitalization for seniors. It can result in medication toxicity, kidney failure, seizures, and a significantly higher risk of falls, as well as death. Raising water awareness in older adults, as well as families and caregivers is important. Water or other fluids should be consumed and encouraged regularly throughout the day and with meals.
The amount of water lost through sweat when exercising varies greatly depending on the person, the type of activity and the duration. Dehydration can lead to muscle fatigue, loss of co-ordination, inability to regulate body temperature and decreased athletic performance. It’s best to drink extra water before, during and after exercise. A sports drink with added carbohydrate and electrolytes may be necessary if exercise is more vigorous and lasts an hour or more.
As a general guideline, stay well hydrated in the hours prior to exercising. Drink an extra 1 to 1½ cups (250 – 375 mL) of fluid 10 to 15 minutes before you start. Sip fluid throughout your workout, about ½ cup to 1 cup (125 – 250 mL) every 15 to 20 minutes. Within two hours of finishing your exercise routine consume another 2 cups (500 mL) of fluid for every pound (.5 kg) of body weight lost.
What Kind of Water Is Best?
For most people, tap water is a fine choice. Mineral water can contribute significant amounts of much-needed calcium and magnesium to your diet, but choose brands that are lower in sodium. Bottled water, in most cases, is no better for you, is generally more harmful to the environment and may not contain added fluoride which contributes to good dental health. Vitamin water is not recommended. Many brands are high in sugar and the best way to get your vitamins is through a healthy diet, along with a multivitamin that contains a balanced amount of all nutrients. Coconut water is a natural and relatively low-calorie way (about 35 to 45 calories per cup) to hydrate yourself and get more potassium in your diet (a nutrient most of us don’t get near enough of and one that is really important for healthy blood pressure!). Choose brands that contain no added sugar and are lower in sodium (some contain as much as 125 mg of sodium per serving).
An easy way to up your water intake is to carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times. To make water more appealing, especially at home or in the office, jazz it up with slices of lemon, lime, oranges or other fresh fruit, like berries or watermelon. You can also add sliced cucumber, thinly sliced ginger root and fresh herbs, including fresh mint, rosemary, thyme or basil. Allow these infusions to steep in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours depending on the strength of the flavour you like best. Both coffee and tea (as long as you watch your caffeine intake and drink them without added cream and sugar) are also healthy ways to get more water and antioxidants into your day.
You can’t live without water. Most women need to drink about 6 ½ cups (1.6 L) daily and most men 8 cups (2 L). All beverages, including coffee, tea, milk, juice, soft drinks and even alcohol, count towards your daily quota. A low water intake can impact your energy, your ability to think and learn, and your overall health, especially the health of the kidneys.