The amount of water we need to drink can vary, person to person, day to day. There is no set prescription as the need to hydrate depends on what you are doing, the climate you are doing it in, and the health of the body you are doing it with. Someone doing physical labour or running a marathon in Central Australia will have different needs to someone having a couch day in the middle of winter.
While there is no single answer to how much you should be drinking, there are common ways to tell if you are not getting enough.
Your body loses water through perspiration, excretion and breath. When you exert yourself, you will lose more water through perspiration and heavier breathing. If we forget to replenish that fluid, we can quickly become dehydrated. When you are busy, running from meeting to meeting, or just enjoying a big day out, it is easy to forget about grabbing something to drink.
But not just any drink!
When we are thirsty, we tend to reach for something sugary, like soft drink or a beer! These drinks can dehydrate you further. The better option, is plain old water, produced by Mother Nature. Drinking water before, after and during exercise, will reduce the risk of dehydration, helping you maintain optimal performance and reduce recovery time after exertion.
The first sign of dehydration is generally thirst … but, we don’t always pay attention to what our bodies are telling us when we are caught up in an activity. After thirst, your skin is your first indicator that it is time for a drink. Dark circles under the eyes or dry lips are just a couple of examples. I will often pinch the skin on the pads of my fingers, and if it takes a while to revert from a whitish colour to flesh colour, or if the skin stays tented, I know it is time to hydrate.
Some of the more serious signs of dehydration are dark urine, constipation, dizziness, headaches, chronic pain, insomnia and the list goes on. As our bodies are made up of and reliant on water, not getting enough fluid means we cannot function properly. It impacts our blood pressure, our eyes, our kidneys, our hearts, our brains … so, your intake of water impacts your health in more ways than many of us realise.
The not-so-known benefits of water
Our ears, nose, mouths and throats all need water to retain moisture. Water carries nutrients to all the cells in our bodies, and a lack of it can prevent the body from flushing out toxins. So next time you are feeling tired, having a couple of glasses of water may liven you up plus improve you skin hydration! It can also improve your concentration and help you lose weight.
How much water is enough?
For an average-sized, healthy adult, living in a temperate climate, the Institute of Medicine recommends approximately 3 litres of fluids a day for men, and about 2.2 litres for women. An increase in physical activity, high humidity or hot weather means you will need to drink more fluids. Illness, pregnancy and breastfeeding also increase our need for water.
Although it is not nearly as common as dehydration, drinking too much water is also an issue. If you consume too much water, your kidneys cannot expel the excess. This causes a condition called hyponatremia, which can be serious. For the average person, this is a very rare occurrence, and endurance athletes, such as cyclists and marathon runners who drink large amounts of water are at a higher risk.
Water, water everywhere …
Those who find water boring or unappealing, will be pleased to note most fluids contribute to your water intake. Milk and juice are composed mostly of water. Even beer, wine and coffee contribute to your fluid intake – but having them make up most (or all) of your fluid consumption is not recommended.
The food you eat also contains water and makes up about 20 percent of daily water intake. Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, spinach, broccoli, pears and tomatoes, are around 90 percent water by weight. So, adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet comes with the bonus of increasing your water consumption.
Foods can also be dehydrating. Salty foods are obvious as they almost instantly make us thirsty. Surprisingly other foods, like asparagus, parsley, celery and artichokes all have diuretic properties. Eating these foods as part of a healthy diet won’t dehydrate you, as water is their main component, but it is good to be aware of their diuretic properties for when you are sick, undertaking physical exertion or exposed to high temperatures or humidity.
High-protein diets also increase the need for water consumption as our bodies requires more water to metabolise protein. Cured meats, like bacon or ham, can be dehydrating because of their protein and the extra salt content. A diet high in grain and seeds, is one more reason to drink a little more water.
Go with the flow
Drinking the right amount of water is a little habit that can go a long way toward better health – and it doesn’t cost you a thing! It is so easy to have a glass of water, but it is all too easy to forget. You can tap into regular hydration with a ‘Water App’ that will remind you to drink water or you can DIY and set up an alarm on your phone. Remember, if you do have any concerns about the symptoms or health issues listed above, please see your doctor. It’s your body, your health and your happiness. Don’t leave it to chance.
It's not only important to think about drinking plenty of water, but most certainly ensuring your follow a healthy diet...