Water, water everywhere—but are you drinking enough? Here in the developed world, we’re blessed with an abundance of clean water, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting our fill.
Water comprises about 70 percent of the human body and 85 percent of the brain. It is the most vital nutrient—in fact, the only thing the body craves more than water is oxygen.
Importance of Water
Water is critical for optimal health and brain function. Water plays a significant role in several important processes in the body.
- Aids in digestion
- Metabolizes fat
- Maintains body temperature
- Transports nutrients throughout the body
- Flushes toxic waste from the body
- Maintains body temperature
- Regulates blood pressure
- Provides energy
Signs of Dehydration
Despite access to clean, healthy water, most westerners are chronically dehydrated. Unfortunately, we may be reaching for beverages—such as those loaded with caffeine and sugar—that fail to hydrate us and instead rob the body of precious water.
Thirst is not a good indicator of the body’s need for water. In fact, once you experience thirst, you are already dehydrated. Furthermore, many people often mistake thirst for hunger. If you’re hungry all the time, you may actually be dehydrated.
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Dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue and the number one cause of memory loss. Some other signs of dehydration include:
- Dry skin
- Flushed face
- Darker, concentrated urine
- Sunken eyes
- Muscle cramping
- Cold hands and feet
Effects of Dehydration
Dehydration can have countless effects on the body, but the most common effects are fatigue, constipation, and elevated blood pressure. Chronic dehydration results in blood that is thicker and more viscous. As a result, the body has to work harder to push blood through the veins and blood pressure becomes elevated. Furthermore, the body fails to produce enough digestive juices, resulting in slowed digestion and constipation. And a slowed metabolism results in feelings of fatigue.
How Much Water Do You Need?
You may have heard that you need to drink 8 to10 glasses of water each day. Although this myth has been dispelled countless times in the media, it persists. The truth is that our water needs vary depending on several factors: climate, muscle mass, level of physical activity, and diet. Individuals with a higher level of muscle mass require more water, which is why men often need more than women. Warmer temperatures and increased physical activity are also associated with higher water needs.
There is no perfect equation to determine how much water you need—it’s an individual matter. Some physicians recommend drinking the equivalent (in ounces) of half your body weight (in pounds). For example, a 120-pound woman would require 60 ounces of water per day according to this equation. The equation isn’t perfect, but it is a good starting point. You can monitor and adjust based on your activity level and climate. One good way to monitor your hydration levels is to evaluate the color of your urine—if your urine is clear (or almost clear), you’re probably sufficiently hydrated. Darker or colored urine can be a sign of dehydration; however, some medications and supplements can affect the color of urine as well.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
Staying hydrated is one of the most simple things you can do to take care of your health. If you think you suffer from chronic dehydration, follow these tips to incorporate more water into your diet. Your body will thank you.
- Drink a glass of water first thing upon waking in the morning.
- Carry water with you at all times so that you can sip throughout the day.
- Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, which will only serve to dehydrate you.
- Choose natural, whole foods that have high fluid contents (such as fruits and vegetables).
- Drink before, during, and after exercise. Carry extra water when exercising in warm weather.
- Drink before you feel thirsty.