Water, Water, Everywhere...So How Much Should I Drink?
Water is amazing.
As a chemical, water has some very unique properties:
1) It expands when it freezes
2) It has a very high heat capacity (ability to store heat)
3) It exists as solid (ice), liquid (water), and gas (water vapor) in substantial quantities on earth
4) It can dissolve a huge variety of other chemicals—it's a "super solvent"
5) It sticks really well to itself (cohesion, surface tension)
6) It sticks really well to other things (adhesion)
For these chemical properties and a variety of others, water takes its place as the central component of life. And it has a central place in your life.
Our individual lives are dependent on the regulation of water. Our bodies are ~60% water by weight. Our organs are made of and cushioned by water. Our blood is 90% water. Our cells are primarily of water. Our proteins, DNA, and other soup-of-life chemicals depend on water to perform correctly. For a human being, maintaining a balance of water is a day-to-day necessity of life.
The Benefits of Hydration
A quick search on the web can give you a myriad of benefits for staying hydrated. The web-promise of full hydration is that you will:
Have lubricated joints
Maintain full oxygen transport through your blood
Flush body waste
Have healthy skin
Improve athletic performance
Keep your body in top shape
Optimize your brain processing
Make your kidneys happy
I cannot vouch for every claim with 100% certainty, but I can vouch for one important benefit. In fact, for anyone who's ever been thirsty (i.e. you are a living being) you know that the biggest benefit of hydration is avoiding the negative consequences of dehydration. Those include for minor dehydration:
For more severe dehydration:
Swelling of the brain
Prolonged dehydration or recurrent bouts of dehydration can contribute to kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and even kidney failure.
Having your body topped off with the right amount of water is clearly important to staying in peak health. Even if hydration is not a cure-all, you should at least stay hydrated to eliminate the unnecessary problems!
But Wait...Don't Overdo It
Can you drink too much water?
There are some rare, but not unheard of, cases of athletes or others collapsing from too much water.
Our bodies have to maintain a balance of electrolytes. For example, too much water without replacement electrolytes can result in hyponatremia—low sodium concentration in the blood.
Unfortunately, hyponatremia can have many of the same symptoms as dehydration, including headache, fatigue, weakness, and confusion.
Someone can be working out in hot conditions and be drinking an excess of water. After feeling symptoms of hyponatremia, they may be tempted to drink more water. In extreme cases, this can lead to sudden collapse.
While not common, it is something to be aware of.
So what's a body to do?
A Few Common Sense Ideas
So how much water do you need to take in each day? This one is easy. You need to take in the same amount you lose each day.
How much is that? Well, that varies quite a bit from day to day. Temperature, exercise intensity, humidity, body size, and other factors all impact your water balance.
As a first rule, if you are exercising or spending time in the heat, the best guideline to avoid overhydration or underhydration is quite simple. If you're thirsty, have some water. If you're not thirsty, you're probably fine.
For long-term exercising, for physical activity in high heat, or any time you are sweating extensively, don't forget an electrolyte source as well. The Gatorades, Powerades, and other electrolyte-containing drinks are great to drink in these situations.
As a second rule of common sense, if you have a kidney, heart, or other condition that impacts how much water you should take in each day, talk to your doctor about it. If you are doing extensive exercise in hot weather, like running a marathon in the summer, get some validated advice from exercise or medical professionals. Personalized medical guidelines are always important to follow.
As a final third rule of common sense, learn to identify your body's signs for hydration. This leads us to our 2 Week Habit Challenge.
The Morning Hydration Habit
The best way to keep your body hydrated and happy is to recognize your state of hydration. The challenge for this week will help you to recognize when your body is hydrated vs dehydrated.
Two Week Challenge: First thing in the morning, drink enough water to fully hydrate your body.
Why first thing in the morning?
Well, for one thing, being fully hydrated before you go to bed is not a great recipe for a good night's sleep.
Second, while staying hydrated throughout the day is important, most of us already have a habit of drinking a little water when we first wake up in the morning. So it's usually the perfect time to ensure you're fully hydrated. The morning wake-up gives you the built-in prompt to do the easy habit.
And lastly, if you overhydrate just a bit in the morning, you usually have quick access to a bathroom. Nothing worse than being fully hydrated just before a 2-hour meeting starts at work.
How do you determine when you're fully hydrated? One more simple rule. Check the color of your urine. Dark yellow = dehydrated. Light yellow or straw-colored = hydrated. Clear = overhydrated.
As you experiment with a morning habit, try increasing the amount of water each morning until you hit a point where you know you're consistently hydrated. Find a convenient container of that volume and then commit yourself to drinking that much water each morning.
For me, a 24-ounce water bottle first thing in the morning usually does the trick. I know I've topped off the tank and I feel ready for the day. Even if I had a long day where I ended up slightly dehydrated, it's a good feeling knowing I can start a new day re-charging my body with the aqueous essence of life.
Making the Habit Happen
As I discuss in this article forming a lasting habit takes a cue/prompt, an easy habit, and then celebration.
The morning wake-up gives you the built-in prompt to do the easy habit.
Finding the right-sized water container, conveniently located, can make your habit easy.
Lastly, don't forget to find a way to celebrate your mini-achievement. Maybe you might like doing what my two-year-old son does after a good drink of cold water. Let out a loud and clear "Ahh" of refreshment.
In conclusion, I will give my extreme apologies to Robert Burns for totally misappropriating and misinterpreting his poetry, but I could not resist this verse:
Altho' my back be at the wa', And tho' he be the fautor; Altho' my back be at the wa', Yet, here's his health in water.
Health to you in water!
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