As countries all over the globe are experiencing record high temperatures this summer, it has become more important than ever to stay hydrated. But what qualifies as adequate hydration? And what happens if you don’t drink enough water each day? Water is vital to maintaining our health, and so it’s helpful to have an understanding of how hydration works.
Why Hydration is Important
About 60% of our body is water, and water is used in every cellular process in the human body. Everything slows down if there isn’t enough water to power our bodily functions. For example, even slight dehydration can cause a major drop in your metabolism.
When dehydration becomes a habit, it can become an even more serious problem. For example, water is used to flush out calcium and other minerals from the body. If there isn’t enough water for those purposes, it can cause mineral build-up, which is how kidney and urinary stones form. Many other maladies can also be attributed to dehydration.
Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration has a range of symptoms:
- Thirst - thirst is an indication that you are already dehydrated.
- Dark urine and infrequent urination - ideally, you should urinate every 2-4 hours and the result should be colorless or pale yellow.
- Lack of strength
Can hydration affect blood pressure or blood sugar?
Dehydration can be detrimental to blood pressure levels, whether you suffer from hyper- or hypotension. When you don’t drink enough water, your body contains higher levels of sodium, which causes your glands to secrete more vasopressin, a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure, kidneys, and sodium. If too much vasopressin is active in your body, it can cause vasoconstriction, which leads to higher blood pressure.
On the other hand, in certain cases, dehydration leads to low blood pressure. If there isn’t enough water circulating in your body, it lowers your overall blood volume, causing your blood pressure to drop. Adequate hydration is the key to regular blood pressure.
Dehydration can also cause spikes in blood sugar: dehydration limits the amount of liquids in your body, which causes a higher concentration of blood sugar. Diabetics have to be extra cautious of dehydration, which is difficult, because dehydration can sometimes be a symptom of diabetes. Additionally, the early symptoms of high blood sugar and dehydration look very similar, so the two problems are strongly related.
Hydration for skin
Drinking water does not directly correlate with healthier skin. For example, there is no data to support the idea that if a hydrated person drinks more water, their skin will improve. However, dehydration is detrimental to skin. If your outer layer of skin doesn’t have enough water, it will lose elasticity, causing it to slacken and feel rough. Note that these symptoms are not the same as dry skin - for that, you still need to rely on topical moisturizers and lifestyle changes (avoiding really hot water, cutting back on products with fragrances and alcohol, etc.).
Hydration and weight loss
Proper water intake is crucial for your metabolism and digestive system, which are both linked to weight loss. However, as with skincare, there is not a direct correlation between increased water consumption in people that are already well hydrated and weight loss. But dehydration can prevent weight loss. For example, water is a key player in digestion, so if you don’t get enough water, you could become constipated, impairing your ability to lose weight. Also, as mentioned above, a drop in your metabolism due to dehydration could have detrimental effects on weight loss.
By keeping your water intake steady, you can ensure that any healthy dieting and exercise is paying off.
The Hydration Equation
It appears that the majority of people don’t know how to keep adequately hydrated. Amanda Carlson, RD, the director of performance nutrition at Athletes’ Performance, says, “In my experience, most people are not aware of how much they’re drinking and are not drinking enough -- many, as little as half of what they need.”
Part of the problem is mixed messaging: For a long time, experts suggested that 6-8 glasses of water a day was the healthy daily amount. But as we’ll discover, that is less than what the average person should be consuming. It is an extremely rough estimate and too imprecise to be helpful in calculating required water intake.
How much water should I drink based on weight?
A good rule of thumb for a basic level of daily hydration is to take half your body weight (in lb) and consume that many ounces of water in a day. Keep in mind that a cup is 8 ounces, and most receptacles these days are larger than 8 ounces.
This is only square one, however. This formula gives you a good idea of how much water you should be drinking on a temperate day with very little physical exertion. There are other factors that enter into the hydration equation.
Once you start exerting yourself, your body will need more water to keep up with your activity - and how much you’re sweating! You should ideally add 12 ounces of water to your daily hydration for every 30 minutes that you work out. This can vary depending on how strenuous your workouts are and the conditions. For example, if you are running outside on a hot summer day, you’ll want to add a few more ounces.
Temperature affects recommended hydration. However, there isn’t a specific formula like there is for body weight and exercise length. The best practice would be to add a few ounces on particularly hot days and to monitor your thirst, urine, and sweat to ascertain whether your body is getting the water it needs.
Certain medical conditions or specific circumstances also come with suggested increased water intake. For example, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is recommended that you drink 24-32 more ounces each day than you usually would.
A doctor may recommend drinking more water each day for certain medical conditions.
How Much Is Too Much Water In A Day?
It IS possible - but very difficult - to drink too much water. Problems arise when your body contains too much water compared to sodium, which causes a condition called hyponatremia, an imbalance of electrolytes and water levels. When the body’s sodium is diluted, water levels rise and cells swell. This can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, seizures, comas, and - in the worst cases - death. However, this only happens in situations when someone has consumed over 100 ounces in a very short period of time. For reference, you would have to drink almost an entire Wisewell tank in one go in order to be in danger of hyponatremia.
Is Any Liquid Good for Hydration?
Most of your hydration should come from water in order for it to be effective. Sodas and caffeinated beverages aren’t processed by your body as efficiently. While it’s important to consume electrolytes as part of hydration, drinks that are advertised as having electrolytes often contain a lot of sugar, as well. Sometimes it’s easier to simply add a teaspoon of salt to one of your glasses of water.
Some people believe that carbonated waters are less hydrating than still water, but science has shown that is incorrect - sparkling water still counts towards your daily water intake.
Best Hydration Sources
The best way to hydrate your body is by using water that contains minerals. As Dr. Mark Zeidel, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center writes, “Because sodium is an electrolyte you lose through sweating, mineral water can help quicken hydration if you've lost a lot of fluids through exercise.”
Even when you’re not exercising, your taste buds crave water with minerals. Mineral water and mineralized water provide optimal hydration, delivering delicious water to your mouth and beneficial minerals - such as potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus - to the rest of your body.
Hydration is Key
Adequate hydration is important for all of your body’s processes. But sometimes it’s difficult to keep on track when it comes to daily water intake. We’ve assembled some advice for keeping hydrated below.
- Start the day right by drinking water first thing in the morning.
- Prehydrate: Is it going to be really hot? Do you have a big exercise routine in front of you? Drink water in preparation rather than trying to keep up with your body’s needs in the moment.
- When you think you’re hungry, you may just be thirsty, since early thirst and hunger are very similar. Try drinking a glass of water before grabbing a snack.
- Select one vessel to be your water receptacle and fill it frequently.
- Sip slowly throughout the day rather than chugging a glass intermittently.
- Invest in a water purifier with remineralization so that you can enjoy the taste of your water. Wisewell is a great choice: Not only can you be assured that your water is safe and clean thanks to the Wisewell app, but it’s also one of the more sustainable options. We estimate that in only a year, the average household will spare the use of 3700 water bottles.
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