We all know that staying hydrated is important year-round, but as the mercury starts to climb and we are spending time being active outdoors in the summer heat, watching our fluid intake is even more important.
Severe dehydration can have serious health consequences, but even mild dehydration may be damaging. Research shows that losing just 2 percent of your normal, well-hydrated body weight can contribute to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, confusion, and impaired mood. Dehydration can also cause headaches. Drinking plenty of water may help to relieve these head-aches within a few hours. One study in migraine sufferers found that drinking an additional 1.5 liters of water a day reduced the intensity and duration of headaches. Dehydration is also a major risk factor for kidney stones, which now affect 1 in 11 adults.
How much water is enough? Knowing the right amount of fluid you need to stay well hydrated depends on several factors: climatic conditions, your size, your clothing, your general health, medications and the intensity and duration of exercise. For example, if you have a heart condition or diabetes or if you are overweight or obese, you will need to drink more water. If you naturally perspire heavily you will need to drink more water than someone who doesn’t. And some medications can have a diuretic effect, which will require that you drink more fluids to replace those you lose.
So how do you know how much water is enough to prevent dehydration? The following are a few tips to help you determine if you are well hydrated.
Remember, if you are not sweating during vigorous exercise, it could be a warning sign that you are already dehydrated and are at risk of developing heat exhaustion.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine updated its recommendations regarding water intake and set the adequate intake for adults aged 19 and older at 2.7 liters daily for women (about 11 cups) and 3.7 liters for men (about 16 cups). However, these guidelines reflect average intake in the U.S. population, rather than an optimal requirement based on actual health outcomes.
What is the best drink for keeping hydrated? For most people, water is the best drink to stay hydrated. In addition to the water you drink, water is also found in the foods you eat, such as fruits and vegetables. Eating five cups a day of fresh fruits and vegetables can contribute significantly to your overall health and hydration.
People who engage in vigorous, high intensity exercises in very hot weather may want to use sports drinks with electrolytes to replace what is lost through their perspiration. However these drinks can be high in sugar and calories. You can also replace fluid and sodium losses with watery foods that contain salt and potassium, such as soup and vegetable juices.
It’s best to avoid drinks with caffeine because it acts as a diuretic and can cause you to lose even more fluids.
Drink water before, during and after exercise. Otherwise your heart will have to work harder during your workout, and you’ll find yourself playing catch-up after exercise to replace the fluids you have lost.
Hydration is important for everybody. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be concerned about making sure you stay hydrated. And don’t forget kids and the elderly who may be especially susceptible to dehydration. Aging can impair the body’s natural thirst mechanisms, making it easier to become dehydrated.
If you want to stay hydrated throughout your day, no matter how active it is, you may find that it’s helpful to fill up a big water bottle (at least 1 liter) at the beginning of the day, with the goal of emptying it by the end of the day. The water bottle is a physical reminder to drink even if you’re not thirsty.
A Reminder: Make hydration a priority whether you are engaging in intense exercise or just lounging around the pool. Staying hydrated should be your first rule of order for summer and throughout the year. Your overall health depends on it.
Want to track your fluid intake? There’s an app for that. Waterlogged – If you prefer an electronic monitor of your fluid intake try this handy app for iPhone and iPad that will chart your daily intake and send you reminders when you are falling behind your targeted goal.