by: Sherika Tenaya
When traveling this last summer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the scarcity of water was a serious issue. Both countries were experiencing record breaking drought conditions. In Costa Rica, from 5pm in the evening until 8am the following morning the entire town we were staying in was without water, save for the commercial restaurants and hotels who paid handsomely to fill private water tanks.
It only takes one such experience to understand the value of water and how easy it is to take it for granted. Our bodies are comprised of primarily water, about 70 percent in fact. Water is instrumental in all of our major bodily functions. Larry Kenney, PhD, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State, puts it succinctly when he says on WebMD, “Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water, and the proper balance between water and electrolytes in our bodies really determines how most of our systems function, including nerves and muscles.”
More specifically, maintaining proper hydration is key for a number of seriously important bodily functions such as removing waste through urine, controlling body temperature, maintaining heart rate and blood pressure as well as playing a pretty pivotal role in metabolism.
We lose water throughout our day due to the carryout of these cycles: urination, sweating, even breathing causes us to lose water. Not to mention certain environmental factors such as hot weather, if we’re exercising or fighting a fever. And, of course, vomiting and diarrhea are one of the fastest acting dehydrators out there.
Exercise is a key time to ensure proper hydration, as the margin for error is actually quite small. Kenny elaborates, “Very slight changes in body water may create some performance issues in sports; as little as a 2% decrease in body water can lead to dehydration and performance detriments in sports. When your water levels decrease by higher levels like 3% or 4%, there are physiological changes that occur that may have health consequences, such as increased heart rate and body temperature."
One of my old soccer coaches used to admonish me that if I started hydrating when I felt thirsty, I was already too late. Prevention is the best way to avoid injury or compromised health when it comes to dehydration.
Signs of Dehydration
One of the clearest ways to determine whether you are walking the line of dehydration is if your urine is dark colored or pungent smelling. Dry mouth, headache, fatigue, and in later stages, confusion and dizziness are all signs that water levels are dropping.
How Much Water is Enough?
As with all things, different individuals have different needs. The old adage of “8 glasses a day” has actually been completely debunked. Especially as we get about 20 percent our water intake from our food alone.
As a general rule, drink when you feel thirsty, and in so doing, you should be urinating every three to four hours, expelling urine that is colorless or pale yellow. Athletes, of course, will need to be considerably more vigilant as exercising can actually depress the thirst mechanism, meaning people who exercise should be drinking even when they don’t necessarily feel thirsty.
How to Hydrate Effectively
As previously mentioned, we get a good deal of our water intake from our food. Foods that have the highest water content include soups, yogurt, fruits like watermelon and oranges, vegetables such as cucumbers and celery and also salads.
If drinking water feels a bit tedious to you, you can always add in a slice of organic meyer lemon or some muddled berries for taste. Oftentimes, I will add essential oil of sweet orange to my water bottle. Fizzy water is also a great solution, flavored with essential oils or mixed with orange juice for a refreshing bubbly drink without all the sugar of sodas.
If exercising, hydrating before, during and after the workout is wise. It is important to note that there is such a thing as drinking too much water. Most common amongst ultra marathon runners, hyponatremia is a condition in which runners drink too much water while sweating out a good deal of the salt in their system, leading to decreased sodium in the blood. For a balanced view on what to be aware of in regards to hyponatremia and how to manage it, refer to this well articulated article.
Caring about the quality of your water is key. Tap water has all manner of chemicals in it used in the purification process, including chlorine bleach and fluoride. Buying a home water filtration system goes a long way in the longevity of your health as well as the health of your pipes and porcelain.In honoring the water needs of our bodies by maintaining hydration, we also find reason to honor the water needs of the world as we transition into a time of climate change. This means being more aware and appreciative of the water we have by being mindful about water waste: turning off the water as we lather our hands with soap during handwashing, turning off the shower water while lathering the body, ensuring hoses or sprinklers aren’t running frivolously - all are suggestions for appreciating the simple pleasures and boundless health benefits pure, clean water can afford us.