During the extremely hot weather we experienced a month ago, you probably heard reminders about the importance of staying hydrated. We were all literally sweating it, and although it can be inconvenient at times, the ability to sweat is vital. It’s our bodies’ built in air conditioning system. Some people have an inability to sweat normally which can lead to overheating and sometimes to heatstroke — a potentially fatal condition.
The high density of sweat glands humans have embedded in our skin is a unique evolutionary advantage. Though we can’t run as fast as cheetahs or greyhounds, we can run farther than they can. Because we regulate our body temperature by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat them.
The human body loses water constantly through urination, breathing, the gastrointestinal tract as well as sweating, so sufficient intake of fluids is necessary all the time, not just when the temperature soars or during periods of exertion. Because there’s no real water storage in the body, maintaining a healthy water balance — the net difference between water gain and water losses — is essential.
Water helps our bodies:
- Keep a normal temperature
- Lubricate and cushion joints
- Protect our spinal cord and other sensitive tissues
- Get rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements
If you lose more water than you take in, your body can become dehydrated which can cause headaches, dizziness and digestion problems. These symptoms often go away once you get rehydrated, but medical attention is often needed with severe dehydration since it can lead to more serious problems such as confusion, kidney failure, heart problems and possibly death.
It’s also possible to become overhydrated. Although it’s relatively rare, athletes and individuals with certain medical conditions may be at higher risk for overhydration. People participating in long stretches of physical activity such as marathoners, bicycle racers and triathletes often need to replace both water and sodium losses.
Daily water intake recommendations vary by age, overall health, sex, pregnancy and breastfeeding status. On average we get about 20% of the water we need through the food we eat, especially fruits and vegetables. The rest we need to take in by drinking water and other beverages.
Low- or no-calorie drinks such as plain coffee or tea, sparkling water, seltzers and flavored water can be part of a healthy diet — and drinks with calories such as low-fat or fat-free milk, unsweetened alternatives or 100% fruit or vegetable juice contain important nutrients and can be incorporated within recommended calorie limits.
Remember, alcohol does not hydrate; it’s a diuretic. It causes your body to remove fluids from your blood through your renal system at a much quicker rate than other liquids. If you don’t drink enough water with alcohol, you can become dehydrated quickly.
So consider plain water as your best friend. It has zero calories, doesn’t contain other additives such as sugar, dyes or unpronounceable chemicals, and it won’t affect your ability to function.
Here are some tips to help you drink more water:
- Drink room temperature water. Studies show people drink more when the water isn’t too cold.
- Fill a container with the amount of water you should have for the day or carry a water bottle with you and refill it the appropriate number of times throughout the day.
- Choose water over sugary drinks.
- Opt for water when eating out. You’ll save money and reduce calories.
- Serve water during meals.
- Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water which can help improve the taste.
- If you don’t like the taste of tap water, consider getting 5-gallon bottles of water delivered.
Cheers! Here’s a toast to plain H2O.