Water, water

Water, water, everywhere... (Image source here) We are told our body is between 60 and 70% water.  Our blood is mostly water, our cells, muscles, lungs and brain need water to function.  Water helps us to hydrate our body, carry nutrients and oxygen to our cells, removes toxins and waste, and protects our organs.  But the body is also constantly losing water - through urination, breathing, and sweat.  And when we lose more water than we can replenish, the body suffers from dehydration.

According to Dr. Google and About.com, symptoms of mild dehydration include headaches, daytime fatigue, constipation, lower back pain, and even chronic joint and muscle pain.  The skin dries out (read: you look older!), and a yellow or amber colour to your urine confirms the diagnosis.  I personally think that a lot of people suffer from mild dehydration without realizing it - and if you drink a lot of coffee and little water, you might be one of them!

I have become hyper-sensitive to dehydration.  I can tell when my headaches or moods are water related.  Drinking enough water not only clears my head but it helps me to be a nicer person to be around!  People also report that drinking enough water helps to relieve insomnia, curb overeating (Ayurveda tells us that at mealtimes the stomach should be 1/4 full of water, 1/2 full of food, and 1/4 empty), and keep their skin looking young and healthy.

Thirst, of course, is the most obvious symptom of dehydration but in fact, your body may need water long before you are thirsty!  So, how much water do we need to drink to stay hydrated?  [NB, about 20% of your daily water intake comes from food, but the rest we have to drink.]

Well, the answer depends on many factors including the climate, your diet, how much exercise you are doing, and how much you sweat.  Someone doing 90 minutes of sweaty exercise a day will need to replenish more fluids than someone mostly sedentary.  Also, if you eat a lot of salty food, or drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol, you will need to drink more water because these foods exacerbate dehydration.  Some sports drinks or 'enhanced water' drinks offer the additional advantage of including electrolytes that help to increase re-hydration.  But be careful, many of them also contain way too much sugar and other additives.

About.com offers this handy equation: Take your body weight in pounds, and divide that number in half.  That gives you the base number of ounces of water you should drink every day.   Then, add even more water if you exercise, live in an arid climate, or sweat a lot!  I did this calculation and it actually seems pretty accurate - according to the calc., I should drink about 65 oz, or 1.9 litres of water a day.  I reckon on an average day I drink between 2 and 4 litres, depending on how hot it is an my level of activity.

Some good tips from About.com on staying hydrated:
  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.
  2. Drink fluids slowly by constantly sipping throughout the day.
  3. Don't drink caffeinated drinks or alcoholic beverages, which can actually have a dehydrating effect.
  4. When flying in an airplane, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
  5. Drink water before, during, and after exercise--slowly!
  6. Carry a water bottle whenever possible, especially when participating in outdoor activities in warm weather.

Finally, let's not forget: there is such thing as too much of a good thing.  Avoid trying to drink your entire daily intake of water all at once, and check with a doctor if you have any kidney problems or other issues that might affect your body's ability to absorb water.

So readers, what is your experience with hydration or dehydration? How much water do you drink a day?