One of the single most important things we can do to increase our overall health and wellness is drink more water. It sounds simple right? Many of us have heard the adages that one must drink 8-10 glasses of water a day, or half our body weight in ounces of water per day. But how many of us do? As we approach the summer months here in the northern hemisphere I would like to explore some of the science behind these claims, and give you some resources for further exploration and reading. We can then all feel inspired to stay properly hydrated in the coming months, especially in the heat, and additionally to make the life-long changes necessary to stay in optimal health throughout our lives.
What water is used for in the body
Water makes up, on average, about 60% of our body weight. Re-read that sentence and let it soak in for a minute (pun intended). Just what does all that fluid do, where does it go after we consume it and what is it used for in the body? I ask this because my youngest daughter recently had to go for an ER visit for an acute asthma attack and one of the first things the physicians did, was give her a ton of intravenous fluid. I was told that her symptoms would be alleviated by both the strong steroid medications and the additional fluid. Among other things, water is crucial to proper blood flow and waste-management in the cells. It is the most essential compound for maintaining the human body and it’s used in a variety of ways.
Water is used in the body as a transport medium for materials like blood cells and hormones throughout our systems. Water is also the most prevalent solvent used in the body to dissolve many compounds such as sodium chloride and other salts. It can also dissolve urea and other harmful nitrogenous compounds like uric acid which is essential for the excretion of these compounds.
Water in the body is also used as a metabolite in many reactions. The reactivity of many compounds increases when they are dissolved in water. Water is used in hydrolysis in which the H+ and OH- ions of water react with other molecules to make new products that can then be transported to where they are needed in the body.
Reproduction, Coolants, and Hydration
Like all body systems working together in harmony, the reproductive system is not excluded, and upping hydration is regularly cited as a way to boost fertility on numerous websites. Spermatozoa can only move by their flagella in water. If they are deprived of water they cannot move at all and ultimately the process of fertilization cannot be achieved. Both semen and cervical mucous can be negatively impacted by chronic dehydration.
Water is also used as a coolant in the body and helps to regulate the body temperature in extremely hot or extremely cold conditions. When we sweat the water from our skin evaporates and produces a cooling effect. Water is also used as a lubricant in our bodies during digestion. The water present in saliva lubricates the food and makes the passage to the lower digestive tract easy. In addition to this, water around our different body parts – such as our eyeballs, muscles, and joints – ensures that they keep a friction-minimized movement.
The Effects of Not Having Enough Water
Given these life preserving functions of water and proper hydration, what happens if we don’t drink enough water? Let’s explore the symptoms and signs of dehydration and just some of the potential health effects.
In her article on Care2.com, author Annie B. Bond mentions 13 of the most telling signs and symptoms and conditions linked to chronic dehydration, of which most of us are unaware sufferers. They include everything from headaches, to fatigue, to digestive issues, to high and low blood pressure, to skin conditions. Mental function can be severely impaired as well. Read more about it here.
Hippocrates said to “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I would amend that thought and say: let water be your cure for most everything that ails you!
I’m a Believer… Now what?
So you’re convinced you need to drink more water, realize that it can’t hurt and can only help, now what? In this final section of this piece we will explore what we can do to stay on track with our new, water-infused lifestyle.
1. Calculate how much water you need in a dayPlease use this handy online calculator to determine the amount of water intake you need in a day. Answer a few questions about whether or not you exercise excessively, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, and it will compute all of your data and give you a great number to aim for. I used the online hydration calculator to find out what my daily water intake should be like. It told me I should be aiming for about 133 ounces of fluids a day (or about 4 liters) in addition to the fluids I obtain by maintaining a healthy diet since up to 20% of our fluids can come from the foods we eat.
2. Make a plan of how you are going to introduce more water
While water is the most obvious source for your daily fluid needs, other good beverages include milks, herbal teas, low-sodium broth, or 100-percent fruit and vegetable juices. Read over the following tips and tricks and see which one you feel comfortable integrating into your daily life:
- Keep your water handy and out where you can see it, especially on a counter or in a glass within hand’s reach all day. Carry a metal canister with you wherever you go out and bring enough for the whole family as well! Try to avoid bottled waters if possible, because in addition to creating excessive plastic waste and using natural resources, bottled water is not as highly regulated as tap water in most developed localities.
- Keep in mind that room temperature water is more quickly utilized, as our bodies don’t have to work as hard to warm it up to body temperature level. So when the feeling of thirst hits (while a tall ice cold glass may sound the most refreshing), keep in mind that the most effective treatment is room temperature water for quicker results. This is especially true after a workout or prolonged sun exposure.
- Experiment with making your own citrus-, vegetable- and herb-infused flavored waters. They can be prepped and prepared ahead of time and kept in mason jars in the fridge, and make consuming the daily amount a bit easier and more flavorful. Cucumber/lime, lemon, pineapple/rosemary, or raspberry/mint are combinations that prove popular in many homes. Experiment until you get a flavor you like, and read or watch tutorials online to get an idea of how to mix up these simple beverages. Other tips I’ve seen include creating flavored ice cubes in freezer trays that can then be dropped into water to chill it and add a bit of flavor (don’t forget to wait a bit so it isn’t too cold). Recipes for “spa water” abound online, and can be found on various blogs and websites.
- Mineral and carbonated waters are another good source of fluids, and I enjoy adding some frozen fruit for flavor, nutritional value, and as a fizzy reward for finishing a glass.
- Keep counter-top brewed herbal teas – sweetened or unsweetened with honey – on hand to encourage hydration. Make sure to keep the sweetened ones refrigerated.
- Other flavorings to water can include a splash of your favorite 100% fruit or vegetable juice to a large glass of water. This will add a bit of oomph!
3. Stick with it!
Remember, lifestyle changes are not always easy, but the stress of the change can be alleviated by making it fun and interesting, and additionally getting the whole family involved in the new plan. But keep in mind you may have to start planning ahead more rest stops as you go about your day. Keep at it, and I guarantee you will see positive results.
Further Research and Reading
Please share any additional tips and tricks in the comments section below and let us know what you do to keep you and your families hydrated throughout the year.