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Up to 60% of the human body is made up of water.
Humans need water (and fluids) to survive.
The amount of water you need to consume varies according to several factors such as age, sex, weather and activity level.
A big glass of ice water may not have been what Leonardo daVinci was referring to when he said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” But then again, if the famous artist understood the impact hydration has on your overall health, a liberal serving of H2O might be precisely what he had in mind.
Hydration plays a vital role in maintaining life and promoting good health. Getting plenty of fluids prevents dehydration, regulates your temperature and helps rid your body of waste.
Our “What You Drink” series explores the wide range of choices you have when you want to quench your thirst and improve your health at the same time. First, we talked about the liquid sugar hiding in your favorite beverages. Then we spilled the beans on caffeine. This month we’ll take a good look at hydration itself.
The human body requires water to survive. Getting enough water every day is one of the most important steps you can take to improve and protect your health. Water performs a wide range of functions that are integral to life itself, including:
- Regulates body temperature
- Metabolizes and transports carbohydrates and proteins
- Removes bodily waste
- Lubricates and cushions joints
- Protects the spinal cord and brain
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the amount of water you need to consume daily varies according to a number of factors, including your age and sex. In general, an adult man needs about 3.2 quarts (102 oz) of water a day and an adult woman needs about 2.3 (74 oz) quarts per day, says the U.S. Department of Interior, but this can also change depending on pregnancy and breastfeeding status.
Plain water is the healthiest way to stay hydrated, but other foods and drinks can add to the amount of fluid you get each day. It’s important to choose wisely.
Plain water is the healthiest way to stay hydrated, but other foods and drinks can add to the amount of fluid you get each day. It’s important to choose wisely. Research from the Beverage Guidance Council looked at several types of beverages. It ranked them according to their health benefits and risks. Rankings in descending order are:
Water is the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and restoring fluids.
Tea and coffee are among the most commonly consumed fluids. They contain antioxidants, flavonoids and other healthy substances. Adding fat, sugar and flavorings can reduce their health benefits. Keep in mind that coffee and tea should be used in moderation, especially since they often contain caffeine, a diuretic that can cause dehydration with overconsumption.
- Low-fat and skim milk and soy beverages are good sources of protein and other essential micronutrients.
- Non-calorically sweetened beverages include diet sodas and other diet drinks that are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners. They should be consumed as an occasional treat rather than a regular beverage choice.
- Caloric beverages with some nutrients include vegetable and fruit juices, whole milk, sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters and alcoholic drinks. Each has individual risks and benefits.
- Calorically sweetened beverages earned the status of least recommended. They include soft drinks, fruit drinks and other beverages containing sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other high-calorie, low-nutrient sweeteners.
Dangers of dehydration
Your body uses fluids constantly as it performs daily functions like perspiration, urination and waste elimination. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. If the condition progresses, it can cause an imbalance in your body’s electrolytes such as phosphate, sodium and potassium, which help transmit electrical impulses between cells. Seizures, involuntary muscle movements and loss of consciousness can all be the end result. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure, heart failure, anemia and damage to your nervous system.
If you have had a stomach bug that caused excessive vomiting or diarrhea, it’s important to rehydrate as quickly as possible with small amounts of water or an electrolyte drink over an extended period of time.
If you have had a stomach bug that caused excessive vomiting or diarrhea, it’s important to rehydrate as quickly as possible with small amounts of water or an electrolyte drink over an extended period of time. Try seeing if you can keep a few sips of water down every thirty minutes. If several hours go by without you being able to keep water down, it’s important to call your doctor right away.
It is important to note that some individuals may have an electrolyte imbalance due to a chronic condition. Be sure to consult your doctor regarding healthy hydration as fluid overload in these instances can cause other health issues.
Who’s at risk of dehydration?
The amount of fluid you require to stay well hydrated may fluctuate according to your circumstances, personal health history and any conditions. Some people are at higher risk of dehydration, including:
- Older adults who lose their sense of thirst and reduce their fluid intake accordingly
- Infants and young children who are prone to vomiting or diarrhea
- People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney problems or cystic fibrosis that cause them to sweat more than average
- People who take medications that cause them to urinate or sweat more than average
- People who work or exercise outdoors during hot weather
- People who are sick with vomiting, fever or diarrhea
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
Be sure and drink plenty of water regularly and increase your fluid intake before, during and after any activities that could require extra hydration.
Alternately, there are some conditions that will require individuals to be fluid-restricted. Heart failure patients and those with renal insufficiency may have the potential for fluid volume overload, which can affect overall health. If you have any chronic health conditions, cardiac or kidney issues, speak to your doctor about what healthy hydration looks like.
Exercise and hydration
It’s important to hydrate before, during and after exercise. Whether you’re going for a walk around the block, playing a round of golf or running a marathon, your body needs water to replace the electrolytes you lose through sweat.
According to Dr. Byron Patterson, Medical Director, Providence Southern California Sports Care Program, “It’s important that we hydrate during the day and prior to exercise or activities. Ideally, you want to drink one bottle of water 2-3 hours prior to activities, and half a bottle of water 15-20 minutes before exercising. If you’re exercising beyond an hour, you’ll want to replace your electrolyte loss with a sports drink.”
Thirst is not a good indication of how much fluid you need. Once you become thirsty, you're already on your way to dehydration.
Signs of dehydration
Thirst is not a good indication of how much fluid you need. Once you become thirsty, you're already on your way to dehydration. The best sign of proper hydration is the color of your urine. If your urine is pale yellow or nearly clear, it typically means you're well hydrated. If it’s dark yellow or brownish, drink more water.
Other signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive fatigue
- Confusion and difficulty concentrating
When to call the doctor
In many cases, dehydration goes away when you replace the fluids you lost. But it can lead to serious health challenges if left untreated, especially after an illness that causes you to lose fluids rapidly like a stomach bug. Seek medical attention if you:
- Lose consciousness
- Become confused or experience foggy thinking
- Have seizures
- Develop a fever over 102°
- Experience symptoms of heatstroke
- Feel ill and your condition does not improve
- Cannot keep water down for a period of 12 hours
Preventing dehydration sounds like a relatively simple process—you just have to drink more water. But for some people, that can be challenging. The following tips can help you increase your water intake and reap the health benefits that being adequately hydrated can bring.
- Boost your water’s flavor with a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber
- Carry a water bottle and refill it throughout your day
- Drink water before, during and after a workout
- Feeling hungry? Drink water to ensure you’re not really thirsty instead
- Drink a glass of water when you first wake up for the day
Find a doctor
Talk to your primary care doctor about your fluid needs and whether you need to increase your water intake. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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