What does healthy hydration look like?


In this article:

  • Water is the perfect beverage for hydration, while sweetened beverages are the least recommended liquids.

  • Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in.

  • One of the most common causes of dehydration is heat illness, which can take several different forms — heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

We all know just how good a cold glass of water can look on a hot day — especially when your mouth is bone-dry. But drinking water does more than just quench your thirst — it helps keep your body functioning properly and feeling healthy. When you drink enough water, you can more easily avoid the most serious heat-related illness: heat stroke.

Water performs a wide range of functions that are integral to life itself, including:

  • Regulating body temperature
  • Metabolizing and transporting carbohydrates and proteins
  • Removing bodily waste
  • Lubricating and cushioning joints
  • Protecting the spinal cord and brain

What should you be drinking?

Men typically have a higher body weight than women and need at least 12 cups of fluid each day, while women need at least nine cups. That amount of fluid intake could increase depending on how much a person exercises, how much they are sweating and whether they are breastfeeding.

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 and ranked them according to their health benefits and risks:

  1. Water is the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and restoring fluids.
  2. 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. Drink coffee and tea in moderation, especially since they often contain caffeine, a diuretic that can cause dehydration with overconsumption.
  3. Low-fat and skim milk and soy beverages are good sources of protein and other essential micronutrients.
  4. Non-calorically sweetened beverages include diet sodas and other diet drinks that are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners. Drink these as an occasional treat rather than a regular beverage choice.
  5. Caloric beverages with some nutrients include vegetable and fruit juices, whole milk, sports drinks and energy drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters and alcoholic drinks. Each has individual risks and benefits.
  6. 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 such as sweating, urinating and eliminating waste. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. 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 with small amounts of water or an electrolyte drink over an extended period of time. See if you can keep a few sips of water down every 30 minutes. If you can’t keep water down for several hours call your doctor right away.

Heat illness

One of the most common causes of dehydration is heat illness, which can range from mild discomfort — such as heat cramps — to a life-threatening condition. Here’s a rundown of the different types of heat illness:

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur while you’re exercising. They are most common in your legs, arms or abdomen. Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating during exercise
  • Extreme muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms

Heat rash

Heat rash causes skin irritation from excessive sweating. Symptoms include:

  • Red clusters of small blisters
  • A rash that typically occurs on the neck, chest, groin or elbow creases

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs after you’re exposed to high temperatures and take in insufficient fluids for several days. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can become heatstroke. Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Losing consciousness


Heatstroke is a life-threatening illness that causes your body temperature to rise to dangerous levels in minutes. If you experience signs of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms include:

  • A body temperature of 103° F or higher
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Losing consciousness

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
  • Headache
  • Confusion and difficulty concentrating

When to call the doctor

In many cases, the signs of dehydration go 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° F
  • Experience symptoms of heatstroke
  • Feel ill and your condition does not improve
  • Cannot keep water down for a period of 12 hours

Preventing dehydration

Preventing dehydration and keeping heat illness at bay 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 daily 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.

Make water your best friend, and your body will thank you.


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 health care services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.


Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Where to treat common summertime illnesses and injuries

5 tips to reach your nutrition goals this year

Eat and drink healthy this summer

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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