Why it’s important to stay hydrated
By Lucy Maher
If you reach for a can of soda when you’re thirsty, you might want to turn on the tap instead.
That’s because plain drinking water is one of the best ways to stay hydrated, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). What’s more, getting into the habit of regularly consuming water can have life-long positive effects. The CDC found that U.S. adolescents who drink less water also tended to drink less milk and more sugar-sweetened beverages, eat less fruits and vegetables and more fast food, and get less physical activity.
“Being properly hydrated is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of all of your body's systems such as the immune system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, endocrine system, and musculoskeletal system,” says Tara Allen, a registered nurse and certified health coach, nutritionist, and personal trainer. “Proper hydration also helps to carry nutrients and oxygen to your cells and toxins out of your body.”
It also helps you avoid becoming dehydrated. This occurs when you are losing or using more fluids than you are taking in, via sweat, breathing, urination, and defection. Poor hydration can result in fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, heat intolerance, constipation, kidney stones, and a drop in blood pressure. It also affects your brain, resulting in confusion, distraction and memory lapses.
“The first few symptoms might be very subtle and sometimes missed, including decreased urine that seems to be ‘darker’ or more ‘concentrated’ dry skin, sleepiness or fatigue, increased thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, and headaches,” says Pamela Lobo Moreno, MD, an internal medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health. “As the dehydration progresses, there can be confusion, rapid breathing, muscle pains and cramps, increased heart rate, decreased skin turgor, abdominal or chest pain, and even lethargy.”
How Much Water You Need
Dr. Moreno says that the average adult should drink six to eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day; for kids or toddlers, that number drops to four to five cups a day.
“If you are going to be outside and are sweating, or have been losing water through a cold, diarrhea, or exercise, you should increase the water intake to make up for the extra losses,” she advises. “There is not a rule as it all depends on individual losses, but on average if you are exercising, you can drink three, 8 oz. glasses of water every 15 minutes of your workout. If you are outside on a hot day, you can take two to four extra 8 oz. glasses of water.”
You’ll know if you’re on track by looking at your urine.
“A pale yellow to nearly clear urine indicates proper hydration,” says Allen.
Where To Get Water
Straight water is optimal. A bonus? It has no calories.
If you don’t really like water, you can flavor it with pieces of fruit or slices of citrus, suggests Dr. Moreno. You may try drinking unsweetened teas, coconut water, or broths.
“You can also ‘eat your water,’” she says, “by consuming more fruits and vegetables that are rich in water, like watermelons, celery, strawberries, and cabbage.”
Parents may find it difficult to get younger kids to consume enough water.
In addition to the hacks above, Dr. Moreno suggests “avoiding being outside on really hot days if unnecessary, making sure to remind them to drink water every 30 minutes to an hour, and offering the water even if they don't ask. You can make it fun, have them eat ice pops made just of water and fruit, and if they are sick—even if they do not want to eat—make sure they drink milk, as milk helps hydrate, too.”
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