Water is essential to every living thing on, in, and above the Earth. It's essential to all life, and many organisms are composed of up to 90% water. In human adults, about 60% of the body is water. According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are around 83% water, the skin contains about 64% water, and the muscles and kidneys are about 79% water.
Humans must consume a certain amount of water for survival, and though the amount varies by age and gender, it's a necessary component of life.
The Best Ways to Stay Hydrated
Water — the Essential Nutrient
We all know that we need water to survive, but do we know why? It's more than just quenching thirst. Water is a building material for every cell. It regulates internal body temperature, transports the nutrients in food for energy, assists in removing waste, and forms saliva to hold enzymes that break down the food we eat. It also acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord, aids in the manufacturing of hormones and neurotransmitters, keeps mucosal membranes moist, and lubricates joints.
The Importance of Staying Hydrated
Dehydration is a condition in which you're losing more fluids than you take in. Ranging from mild to severe, dehydration means you're lacking the necessary fluids and they're not being replaced.
Though the likelihood and risks of dehydration are more pronounced in young children and the elderly, anyone can become dehydrated. It can occur due to vomiting and diarrhea, illness, exercise, and heat stress. In healthy adults, the most common cause is not drinking enough water during hot-weather workouts.
In most cases, mild dehydration can be resolved by drinking more fluids and replenishing electrolytes, but severe dehydration is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you're thirsty, you're already mildly dehydrated, so it's important to drink water regularly to stay hydrated.
The symptoms of dehydration can include:
- Less frequent urination
- Dark urine
- Extreme thirst
- Dry or flushed skin
- Bad breath
- Fever and chills
- Muscle cramps
- Food cravings
In severe cases, dehydration can lead to seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, hypovolemic shock, and permanent organ damage. Fortunately, most cases are resolved before it reaches that point, and you can avoid it altogether by maintaining good hydration throughout the day.
Recommended Fluid Intake
Throughout the day, you're losing water and electrolytes through urine, feces, sweat, and other bodily functions. Because each person has different body rhythms and activity levels, the amount of water you need depends on your individual circumstances.
Many health authorities recommend the "8x8 rule," which is eight 8-ounce glasses, equivalent to 2 liters or half a gallon, each day. There's little science to back this number, however.
Thirst is a survival mechanism that's designed to maintain water balance. When your fluid content drops below a certain level, thirst kicks in. This mechanism is reliable for healthy adults, so you can usually count on your body to react quickly to mild dehydration symptoms and prompt you to drink.
However, certain conditions can lead to dehydration more quickly, and these are the times when the thirst sensation may not be enough. This can include periods of increased sweating from factors such as hot weather and strenuous exercise. Athletes who engage in prolonged, intense training sessions should replace both water and electrolytes to combat dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies.
Other circumstances that may require a higher fluid intake include breastfeeding and fighting illnesses that cause fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
How to Stay Hydrated
Sip Water Throughout the Day
As discussed, thirst is an indicator of mild dehydration and is your body's effort to restore water balance. While thirst will help you catch mild dehydration early, you can avoid hitting those fluid deficits altogether by sipping water throughout the day. If you're drinking regularly, your body will have a steady flow of water to stay hydrated. Take the preventative approach when it comes to combatting dehydration!
Try a Hydration Booster
Water just isn’t enough to keep you well hydrated throughout the day. You lose electrolytes when you sweat, spend time outside, or just by walking around throughout the day. As you’re sipping water throughout the day, try squeezing our favorite electrolyte supplement into it to replenish those key electrolytes. Buoy Hydration’s Easy Squeezy Electrolyes can even be added into drinks other than water - go ahead, turn your iced tea into a super-hydrating drink without adding any sugar or calories!
Naturally Flavor Your Water
If plain water isn't palatable for you, you can get more flavor with fresh fruit infusions. You can also drink unsweetened tea, coffee, or other beverages. Though certain drinks contain caffeine, which is rumored to be dehydrating, studies have shown that the diuretic effect is minimal and these beverages still provide you with hydrating fluids. If you’re using a commercial product to add flavoring to your water, be sure to check the supplement facts before using - nearly all water enhancers are packed with sugar and/or artificial ingredients.
Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as melons, berries, pineapples, leafy greens, zucchini, and tomatoes, contain a lot of water. When you eat fresh or minimally processed fruits and vegetables, you're also getting all that extra water with your meal. Even just a few servings a day packs a ton of hydration.
Packed with both broth and vegetables, soup is a great way to satisfy your nutritional needs and get some extra hydration. Many soups also contain ingredients that provide additional nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins, as well as essential electrolytes.
Try an Ice Pop or Fruit Pop in the Heat
If you're craving something light and refreshing on a hot day, nothing beats the taste and nostalgia of a popsicle. For a healthy, adult version, try fruit-filled pops or blend your own fruit into a smoothie and freeze it yourself.
Plan for Excessive Heat and Humidity
Dehydration occurs more readily in healthy adults in hot and humid weather. If you're planning to spend the day in the sun, whether it's on the beach, shopping outdoors, or taking in an outdoor workout, it's important to drink more water to counteract the fluid loss from sweating. In the prolonged outdoor activity, it's also important to replenish the electrolytes lost during sweating, particularly sodium.
If you're going to be camping, hiking, or traveling, plan for the event that you may not have access to fresh, clean water. Be sure to stow a bottle or two in your bag and plan for the unexpected, like car trouble, getting lost, storms, and other events that may prolong your time away from freshwater. If you're hiking or camping in remote areas in the heat, be sure to bring some electrolyte supplements with you to ensure that you replenish what is lost in your sweat.
Water Intoxication and Hyponatremia: How Much Is Too Much?
Water toxicity is much less common than dehydration, but it can occur. Water intoxication is more likely to occur in athletes participating in sporting events or intense training, which leads to generalized symptoms like confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting — symptoms that can easily be attributed to severe dehydration, heat-related illnesses, and electrolyte loss.
With water intoxication, brain function is disrupted by drinking too much water. The water levels in the blood increase, diluting the electrolytes, particularly sodium, in a condition known as hyponatremia. Sodium is necessary to maintain the balance of fluids inside and outside of the cells, so when the levels drop, the fluids migrate into the cells and they swell. If this happens in the brain, it can lead to a life-threatening condition that can cause seizures, coma, brain damage, and even death.
Fortunately, water intoxication is rare. It usually occurs with endurance athletes and other high-performance athletes who drink excessive amounts of water without correcting the electrolyte losses. There are also mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and psychogenic polydipsia, that lead to compulsive water drinking.
Water intoxication happens when the body takes in more water than the kidneys can eliminate within a certain period of time. Healthy kidneys can remove 20-28 liters of water per day, but that's limited to 0.80-1 liter per hour.
This is why it's important to sip water throughout the day, as opposed to downing a few liters within an hour or two. You can't outpace the kidneys in eliminating the urine, which is when water intoxication and hyponatremia occur.
If you're concerned about water intoxication during strenuous exercise, simply avoid drinking a lot of water at one time, be sure to replenish your electrolytes, and pay attention to your urine concentration. If your urine is dark yellow or orange, you need more water. If it's nearly clear, you're overhydrating and you should slow down and replenish your electrolytes. The ideal urine color is a pale yellow, much like lemonade.
Finding Your Balance
Because there's no official recommendation for water intake, and it varies according to multiple factors in individuals, the best way to determine your ideal intake is with experimentation. Sip electrolyte-infused fluids throughout the day, pay attention to your thirst signals, monitor your urine concentration, and be aware of the symptoms of mild dehydration, and you'll learn how much water is ideal for your individual needs.
how to stay hydrated, the importance of staying hydrated
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