Why Hydrate, Anyway?
Millions of your body’s core metabolic processes rely on water; it helps regulate temperature control, fluid volume, and overall lubrication. Staying hydrated also helps your system flush out waste and maintain proper blood pressure / heart rate. Water can even aid your body in keeping up a healthy metabolism. How (and when) to hydrate, though, is the million-dollar question — and the stuff of some often-overheard health myths.
Myth #1: Drink Eight 12-Ounce Glasses, Every Day
One thing people tend to get wrong about hydration is that eight 12-ounce glasses per day is the ideal requirement for everybody. Humans are all different, and eight (glasses of water, hours of sleep) is a variable number. The amount of water you actually need per day depends on climatic conditions, what type of clothing you’re wearing (yes, really), and your exercise intensity and duration (every pound of sweat you lose is a pint of water you’ll need to re-supply). Generally speaking, The Institute of Medicine recommends about 91 ounces of water per day for women and 120 ounces for men. Still, the Institute suggests that in everyday life, most folks can meet their bodies’ hydration needs by simply following their thirst.
Myth #2: Just Drink When You’re Thirsty
Thirst can be a sign of dehydration, but not always — sometimes it can just mean you're craving a soda. Drinking when you're thirsty is all well and good, but don't hold out for a thirst-alert when you're working up a sweat; exercise can actually blunt your thirst mechanism, causing you to feel un-thirsty even when your body is screaming for water. So, stay on the safe side and drink up during physical exertion.
What to drink depends on what you’re doing. If you’re engaged in high-intensity outdoor exercise like distance running, a beverage containing sodium and electrolytes (such as Gatorade) can be replenishing. But, it’s even healthier to stick with good old-fashioned water and then nosh on a nutritious, post-workout snack that's rich in sodium or potassium: bananas, orange slices, or unsalted nuts are great options.
Other (non-alcoholic) beverages can contribute to your body’s daily hydration needs, too. In news that’s sure to thrill coffee snobs worldwide, The Institute of Medicine has determined that a few daily cups of caffeinated beverages can help you meet your daily water requirement. We repeat: It's been proven that moderate amounts of caffeinated drinks do NOT negatively affect your hydration levels, hallelujah. Still, plain water is your best bet when it comes to hardcore hydration. Research shows that water can be digestion-boosting; plus, it's calorie-free (because who needs sugary sodas, anyway?).
Myth #4: There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Water
Celebrities and laypeople alike have claimed that consuming extra water can improve your skin, help you sleep, and boost overall health by "detoxing" your body. But, it’s not necessary. "There is no evidence that excess water makes your body more clean," says Stanley Goldfarb, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.
Also, water poisoning is actually a thing: You may have heard about the risk of hyponatremia (a.k.a. low sodium levels), which can result from drinking too much water. Though hyponatremia is rare, it’s a dangerous condition that can develop when athletes dilute their bodies’ natural sodium content by downing excessive H20 — causing their water levels to rise and their cells to swell. Prolonged-endurance athletes, like the ballsy folks you see at marathons and triathlons, tend to encounter this ailment most frequently; it’s generally not something you need to stress about during barre class or a power-walk through Central Park. No need to go overboard and try that extreme-water-drinking thing that was hyped for a minute.
You’ve probably heard that proper hydration leads to completely-clear pee. That’s true for the most part, but you can cut yourself a bit of slack; a healthy urinary hue can range from fully clear to a light, lemonade-ish yellow (mm, refreshing!). Dark urine does indicate dehydration, though, so pay attention to what’s in your toilet bowl, especially during the summer — and drink more water if your pee is more deep-gold than pale-yellow (you should be drinking enough to make you hit the bathroom every two to four hours, by the way).
Myth #6: Severe Dehydration Is An “Old-People’s Problem”
Although dehydration is a bigger risk for children, older folks, and people with chronic illnesses, it can and does happen to healthy adults, too — especially those who live in high altitudes or who exercise vigorously in hot, humid weather. Other than thirst, signs to watch for are heightened temperature, a flushed complexion, rapid pulse, fast breathing, dizziness, and overall weakness. If you notice any of those symptoms, stop what you’re doing and replenish your fluid levels, ASAP.
You’ll want to seek out immediate medical care, though, if you notice signs of extreme dehydration, such as: super-dry mouth, skin, or mucus membranes; sunken eyes; little to zero urine output; pinched-looking skin; low blood pressure; and confusion, delirium, or unconsciousness. Complications of this kind of dehydration can be frighteningly severe: seizures, brain swelling, kidney failure, coma, and even death, to name a few.
Sounds Scary — Here's How To Deal
The best way to deal with dehydration is to drink enough liquids to prevent it from happening in the first place. Other ways to stay hydrated this summer are to eat water-rich fruits and veggies such as celery, pineapple, watermelon, kiwi, citrus fruits, and carrots; they won’t meet your hydration needs on their own, but they can help give a boost. Coconut water is great, as are some forms of dairy, such as yogurt and kefir. Soup, oatmeal, and smoothies are also good choices.
No matter how you opt to keep your body fluid-filled this July, make hydration a priority. The summer months may be all about fun in the sun, but there’s nothing more fun-squashing than having to hide out in your apartment (or beach house, or hotel room, or cabin in the woods) with a bad case of the dehydration blues.