Staying hydrated is important throughout the year, and even more so in the summer heat. While everyone has been told to drink water, few people know how much water to drink or even how much they drink on a regular basis. Learning about hydration and how to recognize the signs of dehydration can help you stay healthy this summer and throughout the year.
The Importance of Hydration
Your body is made up of 40 to 60 percent water, making hydration critical for proper functioning. All the cells and organs in your body require water to work properly; a few of the ways your body uses water include removing waste, maintaining temperature and lubricating joints.
Even a small amount of water loss, as little as 1 to 2 percent of your body weight, can impact your body’s ability to regulate temperature and your performance during physical activity. A loss of 3 to 4 percent makes you more likely to develop heat-related illnesses, like cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
How much water should you drink to remain hydrated? Unfortunately, there isn’t one clear answer for everyone. The amount of fluids necessary to stay hydrated varies from person to person depending on age, activity level, ambient temperature and more. People who sweat a lot need to drink more to replace lost fluids, and certain medical conditions or medications can also make you more prone to dehydration.
Usually the best way to determine if you are properly hydrated is by the color of your urine; clear or pale urine usually indicates good hydration, while dark yellow or amber urine usually indicates dehydration.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
The following tips can help you stay hydrated, even when the weather heats up:
- Keep a glass or bottle of water with you throughout the day. Purchasing a reusable water bottle and filling it with tap water reduces the cost of buying water. If you always have water within reach, you are more likely to drink it without thinking about it throughout the day.
- Refresh yourself with a glass of cold water if you are feeling hazy or frazzled. Drinking water helps you feel more alert and is a great way to beat the afternoon slump.
- Add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber to your water if you don’t enjoy the taste of plain water.
- Drink before, during and after heavy physical activity.
- Drink herbal tea in the evening. A cup of tea not only adds to your fluid intake for the day, but is also a great way to relax before bed.
- If you feel hungry, try drinking water first. Thirst can be easily confused with hunger.
- Eat water-rich foods including fruits, vegetables and yogurt to increase your hydration and minimize foods with little water content including crackers, chips and baked goods.
- Drink water on a schedule. For example, drink a small glass every hour.
- Choose water when dining at a restaurant.
Fluids for Hydration
Water is the best fluid for staying hydrated, but other fluids and foods can also increase your hydration level. Vegetable or fruit juices, milk and herbal tea are good choices for increasing fluid intake. Caffeinated beverages also count toward your total water intake, but should only be consumed in moderation. Less than 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine is fine for most people; this is equivalent to the amount in two to four 8-oz cups of coffee. Caffeine can make people lose water due to frequent urination.
Sports drinks can be a good choice for hydration, particularly during a heavy workout. They help your body absorb water by replacing electrolytes, but be mindful of added sugar, sodium and caffeine. Energy drinks are not a good choice; they contain large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants and should be avoided. Some foods are also packed with water; these include berries, melons, grapes, bell peppers, lettuce, soup broths and more. Consuming water-rich fruits and vegetables helps boost hydration.
Signs of Dehydration
It’s best to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty or notice signs of dehydration to consume fluids. That being said, we all sometimes forget to stay properly hydrated, so it’s important to recognize the following signs of dehydration:
- Little or no urine
- Dark yellow or amber urine
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Extreme thirst
- Tearless crying
- Feeling lightheaded
If you notice any of the signs of dehydration, increase your fluid intake to replace the water your body has lost.
People at Higher Risk for Dehydration
Certain people are more likely to become dehydrated than others. These include:
- People who exercise in hot weather or at a high intensity for too long
- People with certain medical conditions, including bladder infections and kidney stones
- People experiencing fever, diarrhea or vomiting
- People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People trying to lose weight
- People not able to consume enough fluids during the day
- Elderly people are also more likely to become dehydrated because the brain fails to sense dehydration and send thirst signals.
Maintaining proper hydration helps you feel and function at your best. The hot summer months can make hydration more difficult, but by being aware of the problem and actively taking steps to increase your fluid intake, you can stay healthy and hydrated even as the temperature climbs.