Water is the most important nutrient in life. It makes up about 60 percent of our body weight — and it’s vital for many of our body’s functions, including digestion and circulation.
When your body doesn’t get enough water, you can experience a variety of symptoms: fatigue, thirst, dry mouth, and dark-colored urine. Your skin will be dry, your eyes will look sunken, and your tongue may stick to the roof of your mouth.
If you’re mildly dehydrated, drinking water will solve the problem. But if you’re severely dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea, drinking too much water too quickly can make you sicker.
What is hydration?
Hydration is the process of supplying water to the body in sufficient quantities to maintain water balance.
Benefits of Hydration
Hydration is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help keep up with your energy levels, improve your mood and alertness, and even make you look younger.
Here are some of the benefits of staying hydrated:
- Helping your body absorb nutrients. Water drink makes up a large part of the human body and helps transport nutrients and other substances through your body. Without adequate water, your body can’t use these nutrients properly.
- Keeping you healthy by aiding digestion. Water helps break down food into small particles easier for your body to digest and absorb nutrients from food. It also helps produce gastric juices that aid in digestion.
- Reducing the risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs). A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria travel up from the bladder through the urethra and into the kidneys or bladder wall. Drinking plenty of fluids will help flush out bacteria from your urinary system and prevent it from building up over time.
- Helping you maintain proper temperature regulation. Keeping your body temperature within a normal range is vital for optimal health, and water is an important component in that process. Water regulates your body temperature by cooling you down during hot weather and heating you up when you’re cold. This cooling effect can be felt as sweat on your skin when it’s hot out or as chills during cold weather. When water levels are low in the body, this regulation is compromised, leading to extreme changes in temperature that can cause illness or even death without medical intervention.
- Helps prevent cramps. If you’re exercising, drinking about half a cup of water every 15 minutes is a good rule of thumb. This can help prevent muscle cramps caused by dehydration.
- Keeps skin hydrated. Water helps keep skin plump and smooth by lubricating it from the inside out. Drinking enough H2O also reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Decreases hunger cravings. Drinking enough water helps keep hunger at bay because it takes more than just food to satisfy thirst; it’s also important to consume fluids throughout the day to replace what you lose through sweating or breathing heavily when exercising or playing sports outdoors on hot days.
- Helps to maintain a healthy heart: Adequate fluid intake helps regulate blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. A study published in Nutrition found that drinking six cups of water daily may help lower blood pressure by more than 10 percent.
The Dangers of Dehydration
Dehydration is the loss of water from your body. It can occur from several causes, including vomiting and diarrhea, sweating excessively, and not replacing fluids and certain medications.
Dehydration can be serious — it can lead to heatstroke or hyperthermia (overheating) if you’re exposed to high temperatures, and it can cause seizures, brain damage, and even death in severe cases.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Dark-colored urine
- Little or no urination
- Dry skin that doesn’t bounce back when pinched into a fold
- Fatigue (tiredness) or weakness
- Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness
How much water is needed daily?
The water you need depends on your age, sex, and size. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women ages 18 to 24 consume 91 ounces (2.7 liters) of total beverages daily, while men in the same age group should drink 125 ounces (3.7 liters). Women age 25 to 50 should get about 88 ounces (2.6 liters), while men should have about 125 ounces (3.7 liters) daily. Older adults should consume about 2 milliliters per kilogram (about 0.6 ounces per pound) of body weight daily.
Why People Struggle to Stay Hydrated
We all know that drinking water is good for us, but it’s easy to forget this simple act despite its importance.
The reasons for this are many: lack of knowledge about how important a water is for our bodies; busy lifestyles; and habits like drinking coffee and soda that offer little or no hydration.
But there are other reasons too. Here are some of them:
- Water isn’t tasty.
- It’s challenging to find time to drink enough water.
- Some people don’t experience a strong thirst response.
- They live in areas with poor access to clean water or limited access to public fountains or refrigeration systems that would allow them to store enough water at home or work.
Tips for Making Hydration a Habit
While it’s easy to forget to drink water throughout the day, there are ways you can make it a habit so you don’t have to rely on willpower alone. Here are some tips for making hydration a habit:
- Start small – Drink more water when you’re already thirsty. This can be a good way to avoid a headache or dry mouth if you’ve been dehydrated.
- Watch your urine output – Urine color varies from clear to dark yellow depending on how much liquid you’ve taken in. The color of your urine also changes with age, so this isn’t always an accurate measure of hydration levels. However, if your urine is dark yellow, it’s safe to say you need more fluid. If it’s clear or light yellow, you’re probably getting enough.
- Ensure your water bottle is always full and at hand – Fill up your water bottle at home before heading out the door in the morning (or whenever you typically leave). Keep it in an easily accessible location so that you don’t have to go back into the kitchen or bathroom whenever you want a drink of water!
- Using reminders and tracking methods – You can set timers on your phone or write reminders on sticky notes around your home or office so that they’re always in front of you — wherever you may be at any given time during the day — but this might be an extra step that isn’t worth it if it takes too long from the beginning or distracts from other tasks at hand (like work!).
Other Ways to Stay Hydrated
Juices such as apple juice or orange juice contain a lot of water and provide vitamins A and C. However, juices contain a lot of sugar, so they should be consumed only occasionally as part of a balanced diet or if you’re trying to lose weight.
Best smoothies are fruit smoothies made with yogurt or kefir instead of milk add calcium without too much fat or calories; they also supply protein that helps build muscle mass while burning fat. Low-sugar smoothies made with fresh fruit are best because they don’t require added sugar or sweeteners like many commercial brands.
Tea or Coffee
Tea can help you relax and calm down, while coffee helps wake you up in the morning! Both teas and coffees have caffeine in them, which makes them diuretics (makes you pee) so they help get rid of excess water that may be left in your body after eating all those fruits and veggies!
Sports drinks are specially formulated to replace the electrolytes and nutrients lost through sweat. They are generally marketed as suitable for athletes but can be used by anyone who is active.
They contain about half the soda sugar and less salt than table salt. The electrolytes in sports drinks help your body replenish what it loses during exercise and rehydrate you faster than plain water. However, they don’t contain vitamins or minerals, so they’re not a substitute for drinking water and other healthy beverages like milk or juice.
The benefits of drinking water are enormous, and it doesn’t take much to reap them. Even a minimal increase in your daily water intake can amount to big health improvements over time. How much hydration is enough? As a general guideline, increasing your water intake by one eight-ounce glass daily can help you meet most hydration needs. Of course, you should always listen to your body regarding something as important as hydration!