Most of us know that we should drink at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day as part of our good health strategy. According to the European Food Safety Authority, adequate water intake for sedentary individuals needs to be 2 liters/68 ounces per day for women and 2.5 liters/84 ounces per day for men. This amount increases, depending on the weather, level of physical activity and if pregnant or not. What’s more, as women get older, thirst sensitivity to changes in the level of fluid in the body reduces, and risk of dehydration can increase, due to drinking less fluids.

Water makes up about 60-70% of our body, and is present in our cells, tissues and organs. It is absolutely essential for life; while we can get away without eating any food for an extended period of time, we can only go for a few days without water. Maintaining the balance of water in our bodies is so important, that we have numerous amazing mechanisms to monitor and adjust the physiological functioning of various organs in our body to make sure we remain in a state of “euhydration,” defined as “the absence of absolute or relative hydration or dehydration”.

This diagram gives you a simplified indication of what actually goes on in our body to do this. No need to read all the detail unless you want to, but it’s good to glance it over to get a sense of how hard our bodies work to keep us alive through regulating our hydration.

Source: Je’quier and Constant (2010)

Reasons to Drink Plenty of Water

We get our water from what we drink, what we eat and what we produce internally. But we aren’t able to produce enough water through our metabolism nor is there enough in the foods we eat to fulfil our body’s needs, and so, we need to make sure that we consume sufficient water.

Water is needed as a building material; more is needed when the body is growing. It is also needed for the metabolism of the food that we eat (being involved in hydrolysis of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients), as well as being a transport medium for carrying nutrients to cells and removing waste products or toxins from them. It is also the main constituent of blood and is essential for the proper functioning of our organs and our body systems. It’s no wonder that too much loss of water in our body is life-threatening.

Water also provides lubrication for our joints, mucus, saliva, gastro-intestinal secretions, and helps our cells maintain their shape and function – just think, water is taken out of our cells when we are dehydrated and this causes our cells to shrink. It also helps us regulate our body temperature, through adjusting how much we sweat or pee.

Water also helps keep you mentally alert. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration (1-2% of body water) can affect alertness, the ability to concentrate and short-term memory function, and can also affect mood and feelings of anxiety and irritability.

Further, dehydration can lead to the development of headache, as a result of reduced total blood volume and dehydration in the brain tissues. Some observational studies further note that this can also trigger migraines and prolong them. For those with water deprivation-induced headache, relief from consuming water was experienced within 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Water can also help you maximise your physical performance. Athletes commonly lose about 6-10% of body weight in water during high intensity exercise, but it was found that even with mild dehydration as low as 2%, physical performance was reduced. Intense exercise or high heat can lead to experiencing more fatigue, reduced motivation, an altered ability to regulate body temperature and reduced endurance. It can also affect the perception of difficulty, making exercise feel more challenging, both mentally and physically. Thankfully, replenishing our level of hydration can reverse this and also reduce oxidative stress that results from high intensity exercise.

What’s more, water can also boost your metabolism and assist with weight loss. In two studies, consuming just half a liter (17 ounces) of water increased metabolic rate by 24-30% for up to an hour and a half. Some of this effect was a result of the body heating the temperature of the water to body temperature, and hence, it is more helpful to drink the water cold. Remember though, that drinking water alone will not increase your metabolism enough to show any appreciable weight loss by itself, but when added to your other weight loss efforts it will help, plus it will keep you from being dehydrated – a major nemesis to weight loss.

Sadly though, the majority of us do not drink nearly as much as our body needs to function at optimal efficiency.

3 Tricks to Make Drinking Water a Simple Healthy Habit

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – H. Auden (1907-1973)

Due to the way in which our thirst mechanism works, the feeling of thirst disappears before water balance is reached. So, how can you tell whether or not you’re dehydrated? Here’s a list of signs and symptoms:

Signs of mild to moderate dehydration Signs of severe dehydration
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Extreme thirst
  • Sleepiness or tiredness
  • Extreme fussiness or sleepiness in infants and children; irritability and confusion in adults
  • Thirst
  • Very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes
  • Decreased urine output
  • Lack of sweating
  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Little or no urination – any urine that is produced will be dark yellow or amber
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Headache
  • Shrivelled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and does not “bounce back” when pinched into a fold
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Delirium or unconsciousness

Source: Mayo Clinic (2008) cited by Je’quier and Constant (2010)

Here are 3 tricks you can use to help get your daily water quota:

1) Eat water-enriched foods

About 80% of our daily water intake comes from drinking; the other 20% comes from the food we eat. Vegetables, such as lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes are 95% water. Fresh fruits like blueberries, apples and oranges are 85% water and are loaded with good nutrients and minerals; watermelon is 95% water. Supplementing your daily water intake with the recommend daily amount of fresh fruits and vegetables is a good way to ensure you are getting enough water.

2) Add flavour to your water

Adding flavour to your water does a couple of things. Firstly, it’s a simple way to make it taste better, which is not only great for a change, but also makes you more likely to drink it. And secondly, it can help provide some of your daily amount of vitamin C and replace electrolytes lost through sweating. You can add lemon to your water, for example. The juice of one large lemon has over 30% of your daily requirement of vitamin C and provides potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium. You could also try lime, cucumber, strawberries, kiwi fruit, ginger, mint – let your imagination run wild and try different combinations, like strawberry, basil and cucumber.

3) Put a day’s worth of water in a bottle

If you don’t track what you’re drinking, you’ll most likely not drink enough. A really easy way to keep track of how much water you’re drinking is to fill up a 2 liter (68 ounces) bottle with water and keep that in the refrigerator. You could also keep it on your desk, and getting up every now and again to grab your bottle from the fridge gets you moving which is another simple healthy habit (read why here). Keep drinking and refilling your glass throughout the day until the entire bottle is empty. This way, you’ll know you’ll soon get into the habit of drinking at least 2 liters a day, and you can gradually increase it to your own optimal level after that. Once you get used to drinking this amount of water each day, you’ll really notice how much better you feel.

OK! All set? Drink up more water for the week and let me know how you go!

References

Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Franke, G., Birkenfeld, A.L., Luft, F.C. and Jordan, J. (2006) Water Drinking Induces Thermogenesis through Osmosensitive Mechanisms. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 92(8): pp. 3334–3337

Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A.M., Klaus, S., Luft, F.C. and Jordan, J. (2003) Water-Induced Thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 88(12): pp. 6015–6019

EFSA NDA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies) (2010) Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for water. EFSA Journal 8(3): pp. 1459-1507.

Ganio. M.S., Armstrong, L.E., Casa, D.J., McDermott, B.P., Lee, E.C., Yamamoto, L.M., Marzano, S., Lopez, R.M., Jimenez, L., Le Bellego, L., Chevillotte, E. and Lieberman, H.R. (2011) Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. British Journal of NutritionVol. 106(10), pp. 1535–1543Je’quier, E. and Constant, F. (2010) Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. European Journal of Clinical NutritionVol. 64(2), pp. 115–123.

Paik, I.Y., Jeong, M.H., Jin, H.E., Kim, Y.I., Suh, A.R., Cho, S.Y., Roh, H.T., Jin, C.H. and Suh, S.H. (2009) Fluid replacement following dehydration reduces oxidative stress during recovery. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 383(1): pp. 103-107.

Popkin, B.M., D’Anci, K.E. and Rosenberg, I.H. (2010) Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition Review 68(8): pp. 439-458.

Stachenfeld, N.S. (2014) Hormonal Changes During Menopause and the Impact on Fluid Regulation. Reproductive Science 21(5): pp. 555-561.

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