What is hydration? Hydration is “the process of making your body absorb water or other liquid.” We all know that drinking water is good for us and that we need to drink enough to stay well-hydrated. But for many people, staying hydrated can be difficult.
In this article, we share some of the health benefits of staying hydrated provide the five best tips for staying hydrated.
Benefits of Staying Hydrated
Before diving into the tips for staying hydrated, let’s discuss why it is important to be well-hydrated in the first place. Staying well-hydrated is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
Our bodies are about 60% water, and maintaining the right balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) allows our various systems to function properly. Every system in our body depends on water to function. Water plays an important role in regulating body temperature, providing moisture to skin and tissues, carrying nutrients to cells, cushioning joints, flushing out toxins, and preventing constipation.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
1. Drink more water.
Most of us have heard the common recommendation to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Although this is an excellent place to start, there is really no research to support this exact amount.
So, how much water do you need to drink to stay hydrated?
Individual fluid needs vary. No one set amount is right for everyone. Fluid needs depend on several factors, including age, body size, health status, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sweat lost through physical activity, environment, and even altitude.
The Institute of Medicine has set general recommendations for healthy adults. Their recommendations are 91 fluid ounces for women (11-12 cups per day) and 125 fluid ounces for men (15-16 cups per day). This may sound like a lot, but these amounts include fluid from all beverages (water, juice, milk, soda, coffee, tea, and even beer and wine), and the water naturally occurring in our foods.
For most people, a simple way to know whether you are drinking enough fluid is to pay attention to how often you are urinating. If you urinate every 2-4 hours, you are probably drinking enough to stay hydrated. If you are not urinating this frequently, here are some tips to help you increase your water intake:
- Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning every day. This is a healthy habit.
- Keep a pitcher or large bottle of water on your desk at work or on your counter at home and drink from it during the day. Your goal should be to make sure the pitcher or bottle is empty by the end of the day.
- Fill a large reusable water bottle, and keep it with you throughout the day so you can sip on water as you go about your busy day!
2. Drink the right amount of water for your body.
Certain health conditions, lifestyle, and environment affect how much fluid you need. Below are some examples:
Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms need extra fluids. Staying well-hydrated is crucial during pregnancy because dehydration can lead to a variety of complications for mother and baby. Breastfeeding moms need to stay well hydrated to help maintain their milk supply.
People who have had kidney stones need to drink more fluids to help decrease the risk of stone recurrence. Many experts recommend drinking enough fluid to produce at least 2 liters (68 ounces) of urine per day.
People with certain medical conditions like congestive heart failure or kidney failure may need to drink less fluids. Always discuss with your healthcare provider and following the recommendations they provide.
Athletes or anyone exercising in the heat and/or humidity need extra fluid to replace what is lost through sweat. Even a slight (2%) decrease in body water can cause dehydration and negatively affect performance. Further water loss can lead to other potentially harmful changes such as increased heart rate and body temperature, dizziness, fatigue, and heat illness.
To figure out how much fluid you need, weigh yourself before starting your exercise, and again after you are finished. Drink at least two cups (16-20 ounces) of fluid for each pound lost during exercise.
3. Drink other beverages if necessary.
If you get bored with plain water, try to drink other types of fluids throughout the day. Here are some healthy hydration tips for those of you struggling to drink enough water throughout the day:
- Add a splash of juice to water or seltzer.
- Add slices of citrus fruit (lemon, lime, orange) to water, or try one of these fruit infused water recipes from Real Mom Nutrition.
Drinking plain water during exercise is adequate for most of us. Some people, however, want to know when sports drinks are appropriate for hydration. For those doing moderate to intense exercise for 60 to 90 minutes or more, especially in a hot or humid environment, a sports drink is recommended. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium for rehydration, refueling, and electrolyte loss.
A recent Outside magazine article reviews the “new rules” of hydration for athletes, including instructions for how to make your own sports drink at home.
4. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is a great way to help you stay hydrated. It is estimated that about 20% of our daily water intake comes from foods.
All foods contain some water. Fruits and vegetables top the list with 80-98% water. Some of the fruits and vegetables with the highest water content include watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumber, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Each of these fruits and veggies contain at least 90% water.
Take advantage of all the delicious choices and be sure to include a good variety in your diet each day.
5. Know the signs of dehydration.
Your body will often tell you if you are dehydrated. If you experience any of the following signs of dehydration, you should try to replenish your fluids as soon as possible.
Yellow or dark-colored urine.
If you have trouble knowing whether you are hydrated, pay attention to the color of your urine. Yellow or dark-colored urine usually means that you are not drinking enough water and are dehydrated. The goal is to take in enough fluids so that your urine stays pale in color, and you feel the need to urinate every 2-4 hours. Urinating significantly less often than you normally do is also a sign of dehydration.
You can assess your hydration by matching the color of your urine to one of the colors on this hydration status chart.
Being thirsty is often the first sign that you need to drink more water. For most people, drinking to quench thirst is an effective way to stay hydrated. This is not always true. Our sense of thirst declines with age; thus, older people could be dehydrated but not feel thirsty. Also, when we sweat a lot while exercising or working in the heat, we may need to drink more than the amount required to quench thirst.
Dehydration headaches can range from mild to as severe as a migraine. When you are dehydrated, your brain can shrink slightly and pull away from the skull. This causes pain, resulting in a headache. Once hydrated, the brain goes back to its normal size, and the headache subsides.
Studies have shown that dehydration causes fatigue and decreased performance during exercise. You don’t have to be exercising for dehydration to zap your energy level. Mild dehydration has also been linked to fatigue and sleepiness during normal daily activities.
Loss of fluid and sodium through sweat can cause the muscles to contract or spasm. To prevent muscle cramping, drink enough fluid. Generally, the sodium in our food is enough, but if you know you are going to have an active day in the heat, drinking a sports drink may be of benefit.
Low blood pressure
Dehydration can cause a drop in blood pressure, which may make you feel dizzy or light-headed. When you are dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, which lowers pressure on the artery walls. This can result in low blood pressure.
Your skin cells need water to function properly. Skin turgor is the skin’s ability to change shape and return to normal. Dehydration causes your skin to lose its turgor or elasticity. When well-hydrated skin is pinched, it should return to its normal shape immediately. If it does not, it is a sign that you are dehydrated.
Staying well-hydrated is a vital part of overall good health. Start putting these healthy hydration tips into practice today.
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