Water is important for growing crops and offers fun recreational opportunities, but it’s most vital use is for drinking. While that’s important any time, it is especially important to stay hydrated in the summer, when temperatures soar and dehydration is far more likely.
Water makes up more than half of a person’s body weight, and the body loses water through sweat, eliminating waste and even through breathing. When you are sick, the body loses even more water.
Familydoctor.org lists several signs which indicate you are dehydrated:
- Little to no urine, or dark colored urine.
- Dry mouth
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Extreme thirst
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- No tears when crying
Other symptoms of severe dehydration include altered behavior, such as severe anxiety, or confusion; faintness that is not relieved by lying down; an inability to stand or walk; rapid breathing; a weak, rapid pulse; and loss of consciousness.
Dehydration occurs more rapidly when people are active. Some medical conditions can also increase the likelihood of dehydration. Older adults are at a higher risk, but their bodies may not feel the symptoms of dehydration until it is much more severe.
Although the amount of water people should drink each day varies depending on activity level, health and other factors, a general recommendation is for people to drink six to eight, 8 ounce glasses of water (or another liquid) daily.
“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," said Dr. Larry Kenney, a physiology and kinesiology professor at Penn State University.
Serious complications from dehydration include swelling of the brain, seizures, kidney failure and even death, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Even minimal dehydration can have a big impact.
"Very slight changes in body water” can cause detrimental effects on the way the body performs, Kenney said; “as little as a 2 percent decrease in body water can lead to dehydration. "When your water levels decrease by higher levels like 3 percent or 4 percent, there are physiological changes that occur that may have health consequences, such as increased heart rate and body temperature."
Although water is the best thirst quencher, even beverages such as coffee and soda are beneficial in keeping the body hydrated, despite the presence of caffeine in those drinks.
"The diuretic effect of the caffeine of soda and coffee is mild compared to the amount of fluid they contain," Kenney said.
Certain foods also help the body to stay hydrated.
You don't have to drink water per se to get water, you can eat watery foods and that will count," said Nancy Clark, a dietitian and sports nutritionist. "Soup counts, yogurt and watermelon count. An orange is 90 percent water, salads (include) a lot of water; so all in all, people get plenty of water through foods and beverages other than water."
What’s a good way to know if you are getting enough water?
You should be drinking enough so that you urinate every two to four hours, and that the urine is a light color," Clark said. "If you go from 8 a.m. till 3 p.m., and your urine is very dark, that's a sign that you haven't had enough to drink."
While symptoms can also warn you of dehydration, they may not be evident until the problem has intensified.
"Headaches and cramping are common signs of dehydration," Hall said. "However, these are late signs. Unfortunately, the body hides mild dehydration very well, and it can take hours before you recognize that you are dehydrated.”
There are many benefits to staying hydrated.
"The body needs water for millions of metabolic processes, temperature control, fluid volume, and lubrication," Hall said. "But many health-conscious folks drink water often because it is a calorie-free thirst quencher. Some research shows that drinking water often may help to suppress the appetite and it certainly aids in digestion."
Dehydration is a serious condition that can lead to problems ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke..
The American Heart Association is also a strong advocate of staying hydrated.
Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles, the heart association’s website states, adding that hydration also it helps muscles work efficiently.
“If you’re well hydrated, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard,” said Dr. John Batson, a sports medicine physician and an American Heart Association volunteer.
When you are active, especially if you are out in the sun, sweating cools you off, but it also can lead to dehydration if the water your body loses through sweating is not replenished. However, if it is hot (or you are active) and you are not sweating, that is a definite warning sign.
Not sweating during vigorous physical activity can be a red flag that you’re dehydrated to the point of developing heat exhaustion.
“For every pound of sweat you lose, that’s a pint of water you’ll need to replenish,” Batson said.
In Texas, football and other sports play a huge role in community pride, but athletes need to make sure they are getting enough water. Batson pointed out that a high school football player, wearing pads and running through drills, can lose 5 pounds or more of sweat during a summer practice.
While many foods and other beverages can help you stay hydrated, Batson said water is best.
“It’s healthier to drink water while you’re exercising, and then when you’re done, eat a healthy snack like orange slices, bananas or a small handful of unsalted nuts ,” he said.
While a person may not feel thirsty before being active, it’s always best to drink water before you exercise, Batson said.
“Drinking water before (exercising) is much more important,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re playing catch-up and your heart is straining.”
But you don’t just need water when you’re active. Water is important even if you are relaxing. Just sitting in a warm or hot place can lead to a loss of fluids through sweat.
If you are over 50, overweight or have a heart condition, making sure you are getting enough water is even more important.
Not getting enough water can lead to serious consequences, such as illness or even death. But getting enough water helps ensure you will stay healthy, and better able to enjoy whatever activity – or way to relax – you choose.