How many times a day do you see someone carrying around a bottle of water? Maybe you have a bottle of water with you right now. But how much water do we really need? Is it eight cups a day like you’ve always been told? Manuel Diaz, D.O., Sports Medicine and Family Medicine, Sutter Medical Foundation, gives us some tips for staying properly hydrated.
We know water is crucial to your health - every system in your body depends on water to function. It helps regulate the body’s temperature, forms the basis for all body fluids, and is involved in the transportation and absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste. Water makes up, on average, 60% of your body weight and each day you need to replace the water lost through breathing, sweating and eliminating waste. But there are other factors that may also affect your water needs:
Exercise – if you’re active enough to sweat, you’ll need to replace that fluid. The longer you exercise the more fluid you’ll need. Larger athletes sweat more and well-trained athletes sweat more because they are conditioned to be able to efficiently cool their bodies through perspiration. During vigorous exercise it is important to drink before you get thirsty.
Environment – hot or humid weather causes increased sweating and water also helps lower body temperature. Being at a high altitude (defined as over 8000 feet) often causes rapid breathing and increased urination as your body tries to adjust to the higher altitude.
Illness or chronic health conditions – fever, vomiting and diarrhea can cause your body to lose extra fluids. Uncontrolled diabetes can increase urination, as can many medications.
Pregnancy or breast-feeding – women need additional water to stay hydrated and to replenish lost fluids, especially when nursing.
Generally, if you drink enough water to quench your thirst, feel well and produce colorless or light yellow urine, your fluid intake is adequate. But what happens if you don’t maintain your body’s fluid balance? You will become dehydrated. Dehydration impairs concentration and coordination, reduces stamina and impairs the body’s ability to cool itself.
Infants and children are at greater risk for dehydration because of their larger relative skin area and lower weight; the elderly are also at risk because they are less able to sense thirst. If untreated, dehydration can lead to serious consequences such as heat exhaustion, seizures, kidney failure, coma and even death.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
Little or no urination
Healthy adults can usually treat mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids. Drinking small amounts of fluid frequently is often more effective than trying to drink large amounts at one time. For infants and children, you can use an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte). These solutions contain water and salts in specific proportions to replenish both fluids and electrolytes. They also contain carbohydrate to enhance absorption in the intestinal tract. Avoid using just water to rehydrate infants and children. Severe dehydration should be treated by medical personnel, usually with IV fluids.
To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Don’t forget that foods contribute to your fluid intake too. Anticipating the potential for dehydration and increasing fluid intake is important. Although all fluids contribute to your total water intake, beware of sweetened beverages such as sodas, flavored teas and nutrient enhanced drinks – they can contribute significant calories to your diet. Water is your best choice - it’s calorie free, inexpensive and readily available.
Note that your food also contains water and contributes to your overall hydration. Here are some of the most water-dense foods: