Living in the western United States, in summer, we have many reminders of how important water is. The recent droughts and heat waves have brought water to the forefronts of our minds because of its absolute importance. We use water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, growing gardens and most importantly, drinking. Simply, we need to drink water, and drink water consistently, to stay alive.
Water makes up approximately 60% of a person’s body mass, and each of our bodies depend on full hydration to function optimally. Every cell requires water to perform its functions including absorbing and utilizing nutrients, using energy, and maintaining cell health.
Water is required for tissue health, digestion, elimination, blood flow, oxygen utilization, as well as muscle, nerve and brain function.
However, many Americans are chronically dehydrated! This includes people whose water content is diminished as little as 1%. Although this may seem like a small amount of water loss, it can create symptoms including fatigue, muscle cramps, anxiety, headaches/migraines, heartburn, cravings, constipation, joint pain, exercise asthma, low energy, brain fog, decreased memory and lower cognitive function. You also may notice darker urine, less urine, or the feeling of thirst. A 10% water loss can cause serious health problems in the digestive, cardiovascular, immune and muscular systems. It can also cause death.
One of the reasons that dehydration is so common is that our bodies are unable to store water. That is why we can only survive a few days without it. So, drinking water every day, and even better, drinking water fairly continuously throughout the day will keep us hydrated.
So, how much water does a person need to drink to stay fully hydrated? The answer is not so straight-forward. It is not good enough to rely on the feeling of thirst to tell you when you need to drink water. This is because thirst can be suppressed and also is commonly not recognized. There is decreased sensitivity to thirst during exercise as well as with age. Also, the feeling of thirst tends to go away before a person is fully hydrated.
Dr. Douglas Casa, a kinesiology professor of the University of Connecticut noted, “We’re busy, we don’t have water with us, and we’re rushing around. That type of dehydration is very mild, and almost imperceptible when it comes to feeling thirsty, but the things people would want functioning well for their general living- cognitive function, mood, and vigor- are negatively influenced by that very small amount of dehydration.”
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has not set a “Recommended Dietary Allowance” (RDA), because personal needs are so individualized. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a measure called Adequate Intake (AI) is used to approximate water needs. The AI for females nineteen and older is about seventy-five ounces per day. For males nineteen and older it is about one hundred ounces per day.
However, the AI is an approximation. There are many variables which will influence the amount of water a person needs such as age, environment, altitude, season, activity level, diet, and special conditions such as lactation or illness. Other influencing factors are consumption of diuretics such as alcohol, fruit juice, sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeinated beverages which cause greater loss of fluid.
Electrolyte balancing is also essential, since we depend on them to hold water in and to balance water within the body. Electrolytes are minerals your body requires for proper functioning. The common electrolytes in a human body are sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, magnesium and bicarbonate. If your body does not have enough electrolytes, water will be filtered out in the kidneys to balance the electrolyte concentration from inside your body to the outside.
A good sign of an electrolyte deficiency is when you drink water and find yourself urinating shortly after. Your body clearly does not retain the fluid. If you drink even more water, you might just flush out the electrolytes you do have. With that in mind, observe what happens when you drink water. You can consider eating electrolyte-rich foods or supplementing your water with electrolytes as needed. You can increase the electrolytes in your watery adding lemon, lime, berries or electrolyte drops,.
It is more likely to need electrolyte-enhanced water in hot environments or at times when you may be producing a lot of sweat since electrolytes are lost during sweating. In addition, at times when you are vomiting or having diarrhea, you may be losing electrolytes. If lost, they will need to be replenished. But before using electrolyte supplements, please consult with your doctor if you have medical conditions that might be contraindicated.
So, please stay hydrated during this hot summer, and continue year-round. You’re likely to feel better and your body will thank you!
Corey Vanderwouw, MPT, and Ingo Zirpins, MSPT are co-owners of Fit for Life Physical Therapy in Grass Valley. Corey has been a PT for 21 years and has a special interest in wellness