Striving to Stay Well-Hydrated

June 13, 2017 in Exercise, Fitness, General, Health, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

Today, I think I’ll start with a confession; staying hydrated has been a long-time challenge for me. This is not a lack of understanding; this is just a habit problem. I’m a strong proponent for the idea that we can build new habits. I’ve done much better in the past few years on hydration, but I must say that it’s easy to slip back into my old habit of forgetting to stay hydrated. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had a reduced sensation of thirst for most of my life. It’s not just the very common problem of reduced thirst in older age. But whether you are older or just have a bad habit of forgetting to stay hydrated, I’ll share a few ideas to emphasize the importance of staying hydrated; and what and how much to take.

Today I looked at the weather forecast and saw that some 90-degree days are coming in the next few weeks. It was like one of those blinking caution signs in my mind – pay extra close attention to staying hydrated – blink, blink, blink!

If we just think about the composition of our bodies, it may help us to realize what an important concept hydration is. Our brains are about 73% water; our kidneys and muscles are 79% water; even our “dry as a bone” bones are 31% water. Every cell in our entire body needs water to function.

Other pieces of evidence that may help each of us to pay attention to our hydration include the knowledge of water’s role in regulating the body’s temperature; the vital role of sweating is to cool off the body. Water protects our brains and spinal cord from shock. Water’s role in the kidneys is in transporting waste and regulating the body’s fluid balance (don’t forget helping to protect from forming kidney stones). Water is essential in transporting nutrients and oxygen all throughout the body. Its role in producing saliva aids in consuming and digesting food. Finally, water has a fundamental role in lubricating joints.

One way to have an idea about how much to drink a day, is to look at your urine – if it is colorless or light yellow and you’re producing about 1.5 liters a day (of course, you’d have to measure to know this) you’re probably getting enough. Darker yellows mean too little water. The old rule of thumb is to drink 8 eight-ounce glasses a day. But really, the amount of water needed by an individual varies by age, health, activity level, the environment where you live, how intense your exercise is; and if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.

Since the food that you eat and the drinks with your meals are all part of keeping hydrated, you may want to get an idea about how much extra water you need. To begin with, on average the fluid content of foods adds up to about 22% of the average American’s water intake. In spite of what you’ve possibly heard, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea “count” toward your hydration.

One of the snags for staying hydrated has been intensified in the last year or two. The message about sugar is finally making some traction with the public. If you’re on the board of one of the big soda companies, you know that people are drinking less soda pop and sugar-sweetened iced tea. As a drink company board member, that’s bad. For public health, that’s really great. But for the person cutting out those sweetened beverages, it may increase the challenge to stay hydrated. It is a very important goal that should be faced and not ignored. Just because a person is giving up fruit juice, sweetened soda and sugared iced tea doesn’t mean that you can ignore your fluid intake, most especially in the summer.

Some ways to ensure adequate intake of fluid are:

  • Make it a habit to drink at least a cup of liquid with each of three meals, regularly consumed.
  • Eating a plant based diet helps contribute to your fluid intake; some plant foods like watermelon (92% water); grapes (87% water); cucumbers (96% water) make a great contribution.
  • Make it part of you routine to drink regularly even when you’re not thirsty.
  • Exercising/staying fit helps the body regulate the loss of electrolytes. If you regularly exercise, you sweat more, but regular exercisers lose fewer electrolytes as they perspire than do those who exercise little.
  • If you have difficulty drinking plain water, you may want to consider, putting in a little lemon or lime; or a little smashed berry – the tiny bit of flavor helps some people who have difficulty with glugging water.
  • Unless you’re running a race or some other vigorous activity during hot weather, you don’t need sports drinks like Gatorade.

It seems like almost any issue can generate extremism and hydration is not immune. Don’t go off the deep end…. and take too much liquid. Water intoxication or water poisoning is a potentially fatal disturbance in the brain. This usually happens in endurance sports, persons working in extreme heat, infants; and sometimes people get the idea that staying hydrated is good, so more must be better. The truth of the matter is that guzzling large quantities of water is not supported by science. The claims of curing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain by drinking large quantities of water are just not substantiated. So the idea is to get sufficient amount of water but don’t gulp down an overload.

Whether your thirst mechanism functions perfectly or not, it’s definitely worth your time to get in the habit of taking a little time to ensure proper hydration.