Hydrate for Health

Are you drinking enough water?

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About 60% of our body weight is water. The more you sweat, the more water you need.

In our bodies, water flushes out toxins and transports nutrients to cells. It creates moist environments for our eyes, ears and joints and helps regulate body temperature and digestion. Though the importance of water intake can’t be overstated, simply staying hydrated can seem challenging, as can knowing exactly how much water you need daily. Factors such as climate, temperature and exercise are influential, but the key is consistently drinking enough water for a healthy lifestyle.

How many cups make a recipe for health?

The National Academy of Medicine advises 15 cups, or 125 fluid ounces, of clear liquids a day for healthy adult males and 11 cups, or 91 fluid ounces, for females, says Emily Rydbom, a certified nutritionist with Stone Medical in Ashland. She recommends drinking water in small but frequent servings throughout the day. Given different body chemistries, not everyone has the same hydration needs, however, and Jessica Babbitt Hulcy, a family nurse practitioner with Ventana Wellness in Medford advises following the American Heart Association guidelines to monitor urine output to measure hydration. The guidelines recommend urinating every two to four hours and state that urine should be clear. This recommendation is applicable to both adults and children and holds true even while exercising, she says. “If you’re taking a four-hour hike you should stop at least one time in your hike to urinate. If you’re not, then you’re not keeping yourself hydrated,” Hulcy says.

While exercising, Hulcy stresses drinking water before, during and after a workout. The more you sweat, the more water you’ll need. Steady hydration will also be easier on the heart, Hulcy says. Low hydration results in lower blood volume and reduced cardiac output, meaning the heart must work harder to pump blood. Not urinating, or darker, more odorous urine could indicate dehydration, as could dry mouth, increased fatigue, headaches and in more extreme cases, confusion and dizziness, Hulcy says. “If you wait until you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated,” she adds. Thirst can sometimes trigger the sensation of hunger, Rydbom says, because water gets used during the digestion process, which then necessitates more water.

Eat your water

By consuming several servings of fruits and vegetables a day, we can fulfill 20% of our water intake through food, Rydbom says. She recommends a goal of 4-5 cups of raw vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit daily. While some foods, like watermelon, clearly contain lots of water, so do dark leafy greens, Rydbom says. Water is mainly stored in the body in muscles and cells, and some nutrients, like Omega-3 fatty acids, can actually improve the body’s ability to retain water, she says.

Caffeine intake also influences hydration. A cola with caffeine and even a tea or coffee would be better than nothing if you need to hydrate, Hulcy says. Coffee increases urination frequency, however, and Rydbom suggests drinking 16 ounces of water for every 8 ounces of coffee While excessive caffeine intake (more than 500 milligrams a day) can contribute to dehydration and cause jitters, headaches and insomnia, limited amounts of daily caffeine won’t affect your hydration status as once believed, Rydbom adds.

Beware drinking distractions

Even with winter’s cooler temperatures, hydration remains important; Water is just as necessary when the weather isn’t warm and sticky. Skin is less hydrated when we’re inside heated homes and buildings, Hulcy says, and since the Rouge Valley isn’t a particularly humid area, wind and the lack of humidity can contribute to less-hydrated bodies.

Also, the typical go-go-go lifestyle detracts from hydration. “We get too busy to stop and drink,” Rydbom says, referring to how we get so caught up in work, travel or daily activities that we suppress our bodies’ signaling and even forget when we’ve last had a glass of water. “Around 60% of our total body weight is water. If you’re only taking in 20% of your needs throughout the day, think about how deficient you are.”

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Electrolyte essentials

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Sports beverages like Gatorade or Powerade tout their ability to replenish not only fluids but electrolytes. Electrolytes include magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, Rydbom says, that are depleted through sweat. Low electrolyte levels can lead to muscle cramping, but that is  typically a concern only during longer and high-temperature workouts. A healthy adult with a balanced diet will usually consume enough electrolytes to run for 60 minutes, drinking only water instead of a sports drink or other electrolyte beverage, Rydbom says. Sugary beverages will still hydrate, Hulcy adds, but they can be hard on your stomach if you’re dehydrated.

Sports beverages often carry large sugar and calorie loads, so eat your electrolytes instead or choose a low-calorie, electrolyte-rich beverage like coconut water. Bananas and avocados are replete with potassium, while dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds have high levels of magnesium. Sodium is abundant, even overabundant, in many diets and tomatoes, lettuce, celery and rye bread all contain chloride.

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