Every cell, tissue, and organ in the body needs water to work properly and to ensure overall good health. The body needs water to regulate temperature, remove waste products and to keep joints lubricated.
Minerals and nutrients are dissolved in water, making them easier to absorb, and waste products are filtered through the kidneys with water. If there is not enough water for the kidneys to function properly, excess fluid and waste products can build up inside the body, leading to an imbalance.
There are times when it is essential to drink plenty of water:
- when you have a fever
- during hot weather
- if you suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting
- after excessive sweating
- during long flights
Confusing? Too much? Too little? What can you drink and when? Staying hydrated does not have to be difficult….
Whether you prefer tap water or a bottled water, drinking water is always the first choice to replenish fluid in the body.
Not only does the body loose fluid through normal metabolic activities such as sweating and urination, but water is lost even when you are just breathing. Therefore it must be replenished continuously.
People often think that 6 to 8 glasses of water each day is a reasonable amount. However, we all need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. Healthy people can normally stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty. For some, less than 8 glasses may be enough. Others might need more than 8 glasses each day. If you are doing manual labour or working out intensively for longer than an hour, you will probably need to replace some electrolytes as well—this is where a sports drink or electrolyte-enhanced water is the best option. However, it is also important to be conscious of overdoing it. Too much water can lead to hyponatremia, which is what happens when excess water in the body dilutes the sodium content of the blood.
What are the dangers of too much water?
Is it possible to overindulge with water? Water intoxication is the result of water accumulating in the cells of the body, causing them to expand. When brain cells expand, pressure inside the skull increases. The increased cranial pressure causes the first symptoms of water intoxication, which may include headache, nausea and vomiting.
Extreme cases of overhydration can produce serious symptoms, such as increased blood pressure, confusion, double vision, drowsiness, muscle symptoms such as cramping and weakness. The accumulation of excess fluid in the brain is called cerebral oedema, which can affect the brain stem and cause central nervous system dysfunction. In rare instances, complications such as brain damage, coma and even death becomes a possibility.
Water is always the best option but do not disregard the benefits of other food and drinks that can contribute to your overall hydration. However, some may add extra kilojoules to your diet. Fruit and vegetable juices, milk, yoghurt, and herbal teas can contribute to your daily fluid intake. Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and tea, can also contribute to your daily water intake. Two to four cups of coffee, containing about 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine, is normally well tolerated. Nevertheless, it is best to limit your intake of caffeinated drinks because excessive amounts of caffeine may cause dehydration (if you urinate more frequently) or cause palpitations and anxiety.
Sip on sports drinks and flavoured water
When we sweat, we lose not only fluid but also electrolytes in the form of minerals that help to regulate the amount of water in the body. Sports drinks can help you to prolong exercise and to rehydrate the body because they contain electrolytes, which plain water does not. If you do not enjoy sports drinks or want a more natural alternative you can try aloe water, coconut water, or a homemade drink as a potentially effective substitute. But always check the amount of sugar in the drink!
Turn to fruit
Most kinds of fruit contains some water, some more than others. Look out for fruit with a high water content, such as watermelon, strawberries, lemons and peaches. But also check the sugar content if you are diabetic. Fresh fruit and vegetables and all non-alcoholic fluids contribute towards your daily consumption.
Many types of fruit are a valuable source of both electrolytes and fluids, though different kinds of fruit contains different quantities. Bananas and dates contain relatively high levels of the electrolyte potassium, making them a great choice for rehydrating during or after an intense or extended workout.
Check the toilet
If you do not know whether you are drinking enough water, check your urine. If your urine is usually light coloured, you are well hydrated. If your urine is dark in colour, you may be dehydrated.
Pay attention to your thirst
Make it a habit to take a sip or two of whatever it is you are drinking, whenever you feel thirsty. Make sure that you have some fluid with you at all times and that you are not stuck on the road or busy with a project where you cannot quench your thirst before you are totally parched.
Do not ignore your muscles
Lean muscle contains mostly water, so when the body has been deprived of water, your muscles cannot perform optimally. Staying hydrated helps to maintain performance in terms of strength, power and aerobic capacity during exercise. When you feel as if you cannot push your muscles any further to finish a workout, try drinking some water and taking a short break before you continue with your routine.
Pinch yourself. (No, really!)
Skin turgor, which is the skin’s ability to change shape and return to normal, is an easy way to make sure that you are well hydrated. Lightly pinch the skin on the back of your hand between one of your forefingers and thumb and hold for a few seconds. If the skin takes a while to return to its normal position when you let it go, you may consider yourself dehydrated.
Stop if you are feeling dizzy
The first sign of dehydration during a workout is feeling lightheaded and you should see it as a warning to take it a bit easier. Though we sometimes want to push ourselves through a few more repetitions or another kilometre, feeling dizzy is an indicator that it is time to hydrate. If you allow yourself to get dehydrated during exercise, the plasma volume will decrease, causing your heart to work harder to provide oxygen to the muscles. Both blood volume and blood pressure drop as a result of insufficient water content, resulting in dizziness.
If staying hydrated is difficult for you, here are some tips that might help:
- Keep a water bottle or flask with you at all times and refill it regularly with tap water or at a water fountain.
- If you do not like the taste of water, try adding some lemon or mint. Cucumber or strawberries are more colourful options. Add some ice – it looks appealing and will cool you down.
- Try to drink some water before, during, and while you are working out.
- If you are feeling hungry, try drinking some water first as thirst is often confused with hunger. If you are truly hungry, it will not be satisfied by drinking water. Drinking a sufficient quantity of water every day may also help you to maintain a healthy weight.
- Create a water-drinking schedule if you have trouble remembering to drink water. Have a glass of water when you wake up, before every meal and when you go to bed. You can also download an app on your phone to remind you.
Know the dangers of dehydration
A large part of your body weight consists of water. Your body loses water every day through normal metabolic processes and if you do not replace the water you lost, you will become dehydrated.
Look out for the signs of dehydration
- Little or no urine.
- Urine that is darker than usual.
- Dry mouth.
- Sleepiness or fatigue.
- Extreme thirst.
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- No tears when crying.
Do not wait until you notice symptoms of dehydration before you take action. Actively prevent dehydration by sticking to a disciplined routine of drinking plenty of water.
Outsmart the elements
In winter, it is not just the shorter days and cold weather that wears us down. We might also be dehydrated. The cold can make you feel that you are not sweating as much and therefore do not need to drink as much water as in summer. Rather stick to a good routine with the same amount of fluids as in summer and if you cannot face cold water, drink luke-warm water or try herbal or fruit-infused teas.
Once you are in a routine of drinking water, it will not feel like an unmanageable task. Not only does a well-hydrated body feels better, it also functions more effectively. Any reservations you might still have about drinking your quota every day might just be washed away!
- Familydoctor.Org/Hydration-Why-Its-So-Importantjanuary 1, 2010
- This Is All You Really Need To Know About Staying Hydrated July 9, 2015 | By Nicole McDerm