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Staying hydrated isn’t something that only affects athletes. It’s critical for everyone’s health.
Water accounts for 60% of our total body mass. Keeping hydrated helps the heart pump blood more easily through the blood vessels to the muscles, allowing them to work more efficiently. In addition, water keeps your lips and throat moist and prevents dry mouth. Dry mouth, in turn, can cause bad breath and even create cavities.
While being well-hydrated is different for everyone, depending on their exercise levels and climate, a simple way to know you’re dehydrated is if you’re thirsty. For the average person, it’s important to drink enough water that you need to go to the bathroom every two to four hours. The 8 glasses/day rule is not scientifically proven, but most people can stay healthy drinking this amount of water. Your urine should be clear, and if it is a dark color, this could be a bad sign. For athletes who are losing a lot of water through sweat and breathing, their water needs are higher.
Those with conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, need to drink more water. Similarly, those on medications that act as diuretics, which cause the body to lose more liquid, need to drink more water than the average person.
If drinking water is difficult for you, consider eating foods with a high percentage of water, such as fruits and vegetables. Additionally, sports drinks have a high concentration of electrolytes and help athletes stay hydrated.
If you plan on going out in the direct sun, or to exercise, it’s important to drink water beforehand and throughout this time.
So what happens when we are dehydrated? Dehydration is a serious condition that can lead to problems, including swollen feet, headaches or life-threatening illnesses, such as heat stroke. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell when you’re dehydrated until it’s too late, and you have been dehydrated for hours. On a smaller scale, dehydration can cause acne from changing hormone levels and oxidative stress. Also, your brain can lose some of its main cognitive functions and your muscles can become stiff or cramped. As a result, it’s important to keep hydrated regularly.
A recent study by St. Andrews’ School of Medicine reported some interesting findings, including milk’s powerful hydrating effects. In fact, milk was found to be more hydrating than plain water because it includes some fat, protein and sugar lactose. When it comes to coffee and caffeinated drinks, coffee can cause you to lose fluid, as caffeine causes a short-term diuretic effect. Similarly, alcohol can dehydrate you, as it causes your body to remove fluids from your blood quicker than other liquids. Blended drinks, such as Pina Coladas, contain juice and can (theoretically) help with hydration, however, it’s best to avoid sugary blended drinks, which can cause dehydration.
Some tips for keeping hydrated:
- Add flavor to your water by adding a slice of lemon or lime to your glass of water
- Drink water before, during and after you exercise
- Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day to fill up
- If hunger strikes, first drink a glass of water
- Slow down on your beer and alcohol consumption. If you drink too many beers too quickly, you’ll end up dehydrated
- If you’re consuming alcohol, drink water. This will keep you hydrated and help you avoid a nasty hangover the next day