Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining optimum health and overall well-being.
Our bodies rely heavily on water for essential functions like regulating body temperature, flushing toxins, and assisting in digestion. But many people don’t get adequate amounts of water throughout the day, which can potentially lead to negative consequences for health and performance. How much water should we be consuming each day?
The United States National Research Council (USNRC) now recommends 3.7 litres of water for men and 2.7 litres for women per day on average. Since 1 litre is 4 cups, that translates to a lot more than the 8 glasses of water you might have in mind: nearly 15 glasses of water for men and 11 glasses of water for women each day!
Individual hydration needs will vary depending on factors like age, activity level, and climate. According to the Mayo Clinic, most healthy individuals can stay hydrated by simply drinking water whenever they feel thirsty.
Some people just aren’t good at recognizing when they are thirsty though. And with the edge cases of illness, high activity, and high temperature it is less reliable to rely on thirst to stay hydrated. So to determine if you’re consuming enough water, you need to be able to recognize the signs of dehydration.
Importance of Water to the Body
Water is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. It plays a critical role in many of our body’s systems. So it contributes to not only our physical performance but also to our cognitive, or mental, performance.
Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining optimal physical performance. Water makes up around 60% of our body, and it’s responsible for transporting nutrients and oxygen to our cells, as well as regulating body temperature during exercise. A lack of hydration can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and even reduced coordination.
Proper hydration also promotes optimal cognitive function. Our brain relies on water to function effectively, which means that water consumption influences concentration, mood, and memory. In fact, even mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance and decision-making abilities!
Digestion and Absorption
Drinking enough water is a key factor in digestion and nutrient absorption. Water helps break down food and helps our bodies absorb essential nutrients more effectively. It also helps prevent constipation by softening the stool and maintaining regular bowel movements (now that’s a relief).
How Much Water is Enough
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests that adult women intake 2.7 liters (11 cups) of water per day, while adult men intake 3.7 liters (125 ounces or 15 cups) per day. This is higher than the more familiar refrain of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day which would work out to 2 litres.
Some of the water we need comes in other beverages, and some of it we even get from solid foods – especially fruits and vegetables. That’s why the USNRC doesn’t actually tell us how many ounces or glasses of water we need to drink in a day to meet the consumption target, which includes all sources of water.
Factors Affecting Water Needs
Several factors can influence personal water requirements, such as:
- Activity level
- Geographical location
- Health conditions
If you live in a hot climate or engage in intense physical activity may need to consume more water to stay hydrated. Similarly, pregnant and breastfeeding women also require additional fluid intakes to maintain optimal health.
Some health conditions may affect how much water you should drink. Harvard Health advises that individuals with thyroid or kidney problems should consult their healthcare providers to determine their individual water intake requirements.
Common Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when the body lacks sufficient water to function properly. It can range from mild to severe depending on the amount of fluid loss.
Mild dehydration is typically characterized by a loss of 1.5% of body water, which can lead to symptoms such as:
- Feeling thirsty
- Dark yellow, strong-smelling urine
- Peeing less frequently
- Fatigue and headache
These early warning signs indicate that you might not be consuming enough water, and it is crucial to address them before the condition worsens!
Severe dehydration can occur when fluid loss becomes more significant. The symptoms can include:
- Dizziness and fainting
- Heart palpitations
- Confusion and irritability
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
Not drinking enough water is the most common cause of dehydration, but it can also result from illness, or excessive sweating. Inadequate access to safe drinking water increases the chance of becoming dehydrated.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
Monitor Fluid Intake
One key to staying hydrated is keeping track of your daily water consumption. By setting a goal for daily water intake and noting how much you drink, it becomes easier to make sure you’re meeting your hydration needs. You can use water-tracking apps, or just mark down your water consumption in your daily planner if you use one.
Remember that when circumstances change so will your fluid requirements. Illness, a hot environment, increased activity, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or an increase in the protein or fibre content in your diet will all require additional water intake to keep you at the hydration level you are used to.
Choose Healthy Beverages
Opt for beverages that contribute to hydration rather than those that also have dehydrating affects (such as alcohol and drinks with high caffeine content). Yes, you’ll make it through the day on coffee or tea! But for optimal function focus on consuming water, herbal teas, and natural fruit juices. Add fruits, vegetables, or herbs to make water more appealing and refreshing. Cucumber and lemons are personal favorites.
Setting regular reminders to drink water can help ensure consistent hydration throughout the day. One effective method is habit stacking: link drinking water with common daily activities, like going to the bathroom. This way, every bathroom break serves as an opportunity to drink a glass of water (after you wash your hands). Alternatively, utilize smartphone apps or alarms on your smart watch to remind you to drink water at intervals throughout the day.
Hard vs Soft Water
This is the Soft Water Lab so clearly we have to address this pressing question!
There are two types of water that people primarily consume: hard water and soft water. Understanding the differences between these types of water can help you make informed decisions about your water consumption.
Hard water contains a higher concentration of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which are naturally present in the water source. These minerals can contribute to various health benefits, including stronger bones, teeth, and muscles. Hard water is even associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, hard water can cause limescale buildup on appliances and plumbing fixtures, and may reduce the effectiveness of soaps and detergents.
Soft water, on the other hand, contains lower levels of calcium and magnesium, but higher concentrations of sodium. It is typically easier on plumbing and appliances, and can result in better lathering of soaps and detergents. But, due to its higher sodium content, soft water can be a concern for individuals with sodium-restricted diets or those who are sensitive to sodium, as mentioned.
When it comes to drinking water, both hard and soft water are generally safe to consume. If you have a taste preference for one or the other, that’s a good deciding factor as it will make you more likely to stay hydrated.
Staying properly hydrated is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. Not consuming enough water can lead to increased risks of kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and a decline in physical and mental performance whereas drinking sufficient water can suppress appetite and prevent constipation.
It’s vital to proactively monitor your hydration levels throughout the day to ensure you’re drinking an adequate amount of water. Factors such as climate, physical activity, and individual needs can determine the optimal amount of water intake.
To maintain proper hydration, make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you and regularly refill it.
In terms of hard water or soft water, you can choose to have your kitchen sink tap bypass your water softener. Or, leave most of your water alone but add a water softening shower head to address soap scum in the shower. Unless you have specific health concerns simply getting enough water through the day is the biggest step to better physical and mental functioning.
- Importance of Water to the Body
- How Much Water is Enough
- Common Signs of Dehydration
- Tips for Staying Hydrated
- Hard vs Soft Water
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“Water – a Vital Nutrient – Better Health Channel.” Better Health Channel. Deakin University Australia <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Water_a_vital_nutrient>
“15 Foods That Help You Stay Hydrated.” – Health.com. <https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20709014,00.html>